Investors start $500 mln Syria property project

DAMASCUS - Gulf and Syrian investors broke ground on Sunday on a $500 million real estate project near Damascus, where property prices have spiked as the government has taken steps to open Syria’s command economy.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Sun 11 Jun 2006, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 3:24 PM

The Eighth Gate project -- Damascus has seven Gates -- is the largest so far of several developments involving Gulf investors, who are expanding into Syria while it is isolated from the West, especially Washington, over its role in Lebanon and its anti-Israeli positions.

“Huge opportunities are developing because the Syrian government is moving away from central planning to what it calls a social market economy, said Anas Al Kazbari, a shareholder in the project.

“Syria has a severe shortage of properties built to international standards. This project will help thrust the market into modernity,” Kazbari told Reuters.

Emaar, a real estate company one-third owned by the Dubai government, is a major shareholder in the project, which is due to be completed in 2010 and include 3,000 apartments and a 450,000-square-metre shopping centre.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah Al Dardari, a member of a minority in government that advocates quicker economic reform, laid the foundation stone for the project at the conclusion of a two day Syrian-U.A.E. investment forum.

“Reforms remain on the slow side, but we will see acceleration in the next few months,” Dardari said, adding Gulf investments were flowing into Syria because the government has not let political pressure distract it from economic liberalisation.

Arabs preferred

Syria’s economy was nationalised in 1963, when the Baath Party took power in a coup and imposed regulations that strangled private economic activity in a country famous for openness since antiquity.

A Syrian businessman said the government was willing to ignore regulations that have kept the property market undeveloped for decades in favour of Gulf investors.

“There is definitely a preference for Gulf Arabs,” he said.

Gulf investors have traditionally preferred to put their money into the property market in Lebanon and more recently Jordan, whose real estate sector has boomed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq partly due to an influx of Iraqis with liquidity.

President Bashar Al Assad, who succeeded his late father in 2000 and began lessening government controls on the economy while keeping a firm grip on the political system, is keen to draw Gulf capital.

He inaugurated in March a $170 million Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, partly owned by Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, who said Syria must not be allowed to buckle economically under Western pressure.

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