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Are you looking for a relaxing vacation on a sun-dappled beach surrounded by lush green valleys, pristine azure waters, and exciting nightlife?
How about Syria?
The Syrian Ministry of Tourism just released a series of YouTube videos that depict the war-torn country as a paradise of jet-skiing adventures, ancient citadels and hilltop villages. The tagline: Syria: Always Beautiful. (Or, actually, "Beatiful.")
Strangely, no mention of airstrikes, Islamic extremists, nor of the five-year-long conflict that has ravaged the nation, killed close to half a million people, and displaced almost five million.
The tourism campaign is part of President Bashar Assad’s initiative to bring visitors back to a country that previously attracted as many as 8.5 million travelers a year, according to 2010 figures. Since the war began, Syria has lost around $254 billion, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research.
In one tourism video, Syria from the Sky, the countryside is filmed in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster trailer: Epic Wagnerian music accompanies aerial footage as fortresses, citadels, walled villages and deserts flash by.
Another plays almost like a music video by Miami-based playboy rapper Pitbull: Pumping bass follows bikini-clad beachgoers as they zip through crystal-clear waters on jet skis, frolic on golden sands, and relax on sun loungers.
Another video seems to suggest Syria as the perfect spot for your destination wedding: Guests dance happily at a hilltop ceremony in a red-roofed village nestled among olive groves, enjoy a jamming poolside disco party, and admire a fireworks display.
American sunseekers who are tempted by these offerings might be wise to consider the U.S. Department of State warning that "strongly recommends against all travel to Syria" due to that nation's dangerous, violent conflict and "an increased risk of kidnappings, bombings, murder, and terrorism."