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Merkel implicitly rejects Putin's call to help Syria reconstruction

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a statement at the German government guest house north of Berlin on August 18, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to have rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's call to financially contribute to the Syria reconstruction.

Speaking after talks with Putin outside Berlin on Saturday, Merkel said the focus should rather be on averting a Syrian army operation to retake the militant-held province of Idlib.

Her retort came after the Russian leader underlined the need for assistance to rebuild Syria and ensure that refugees could safely return to their homeland.

"We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict," he said. "By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to."

The Russian president also put the number of refugees in Turkey at three million while Jordan and Lebanon each host one million refugees.  

The refugees, he noted, are "potentially a huge burden on Europe, so it is better to do everything possible so that they can return home.”

Syrian children walk by the rubble of destroyed buildings in Harasta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on July 15, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Putin emphasized that Syria's basic services such as water supplies and health care should be properly restored.

The German chancellor, however, showed reluctance to financially engage in the Syria reconstruction process and stressed that the priority in Syria was "to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe," particularly in Idlib.

Germany is a member of the US-led coalition which has been bombarding Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate. The aerial assaults have killed many civilians and destroyed Syria's infrastructure.

The Syrian army is preparing for a major military campaign in Idlib Province, the last remaining militant stronghold, after liberating much of the country's south near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from the grip of Takfiri terrorists.

Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said last September that the US, Britain, and their allies would not support Syria's reconstruction as long as President Bashar al-Assad remained in power.

In April, US State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield confirmed that Washington had no plans to provide Syria with any support for reconstruction.

"The United States does not believe that any reconstruction assistance should go to any areas under the control of the Assad regime," he said.

On Friday, the US cut its $230 million funding for the so-called Syria stabilization projects which have mostly gone to militants in the past, but vowed to remain active in its anti-Damascus bid in the country.

With more than 85 percent of Syria having returned to the government fold, Merkel said she had discussed with Putin the issue of constitutional reforms in Syria.

During their Saturday meeting, the two sides also exchanged views on the Ukraine conflict as well as the issue of Iran and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that no agreements had been reached in Merkel-Putin meeting, but it had simply been intended to "check the watches" after the Sochi event.

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