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DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Thursday opened the country’s first international trade fair since war broke out in 2011, an event hailed by officials as a “victory” and a sign of renewed confidence in the war-torn nation after years of war.

The fair is being held in an area few kilometers (miles) away from the rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus. The proximity alone underlines Syrian President Bashar Assad’s increasingly confident position following significant military gains on the ground in the past year.

According to state-run media, participants from 43 countries are taking part in the fair, which is expected to last for 10 days and promises to attract investors mainly from allies like Russia, China and Iran.

Egypt, South Africa and Belarus are also taking part, and organisers say companies from Britain, France and Germany are participating, apparently in a private capacity. The Damascus Intern­ational Fair used to be a high-profile annual event, attracting major investors before the war erupted.

It’s reopening is a telling indicator of the mood in the Syrian capital. Hundreds of attendees seated on a red carpet below a stage stacked with fluttering flags of participating counties stood in a minute of silence for those who died in the war. Then the event kicked off with a live orchestra playing the Syrian national anthem.

Assisted by Russian and Iranian forces, Assad has retaken key parts of the country from rebels who have been significantly weakened in the last two years.

His political opponents in the West as well as Gulf countries and Turkey are no longer calling on him to step down, and while battles still rage in the country’s north and east, and in pockets around Damascus, Assad’s survival at least in the near term now appears guaranteed.

“This comeback is an indication that the war in Syria is coming to an end,” Samer el-Debs, who heads the Damascus Chamber of Industry, told The Associated Press. “After all what happened, all the economic sanctions against Syria and systematic attempts to destroy Syria, we see that this fair has been reopened.”

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2017