DAMASCUS (AFP) - Lured by potentially enormous contracts for reconstruction work in war-torn Syria, international companies have laid out their wares at the Damascus International Fair for the first time in six years.
The top event on pre-war Syria's economic calendar, the fair is hosting firms from 23 countries that have maintained diplomatic relations with Damascus throughout the conflict.
The last fair took place in the summer of 2011, months after the start of a revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States and European countries who have imposed economic sanctions on the Assad regime were not officially invited, although a few Western companies are attending.
"We've come back to Syria because it's a promising country," Nabil Moghrabiye of wastewater piping firm Ostendorf Kunststoffe, the only German company at the Fair, told AFP.
"We hope to re-enter the market... and find a dealer," he said at his small stand in the 74,000 sq m exhibition centre.
Two French companies are present: cocktail syrup producer La Maison Routin 1883 and tableware specialist Luminarc.
Representatives of both refused to speak to the press.
Russia and Iran, unwavering allies of the Syrian regime since the war broke out in 2011, were each represented by several firms including agricultural and energy companies.
"We want to extend our business to other regions of Syria," Mortazak Yanji, of Iran's Mabna, which has built two power stations in the country, told AFP.
Other Iranian firms included manufacturers of cars, medical equipment and home appliances.
"This fair is very important for the start of reconstruction," said Igor Matveyev, commercial attache at Russia's embassy in Damascus.
"It's an opportunity to build useful relations... between Russian and Syrian businessmen." Assad said in 2016 that his allies would receive the lion's share of contracts to rebuild the country.
He reiterated in April that no country which had aided the Syrian opposition should be allowed to take part in the process.
International organisations estimate that reconstructing Syria, devastated by a six-year war that has left killed more than 320,000 people, will cost upwards of US$300 billion (S$400 billion).
The World Bank has put the cost of the war damage at US$226 billion, still four times Syria's pre-conflict gross domestic product.
The online economic weekly Syria Report said this week said the fair was an attempt by the Assad regime to bring back investors and promote a return to normality.
But it said the fair's real impact would be hard to judge due to ongoing fighting in several parts of the country, Western sanctions and lack of funds for reconstruction.
The conflict first erupted in March 2011 with protests against the rule of Assad, but it has since evolved into a complex war drawing in international powers.