The besieged city of Homs has been one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of Syria's civil war -- but that didn't stop the country's tourism minister saying he anticipated a "prosperous tourism season" for the region.
Minister Bisher Yazigi said the main tourist attractions would include the Wadi al-Nadara region and its imperious crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers. These would be boosted by "miscellaneous activities ... planned in the two sites during summertime," state-run SANA news agency quoted him as saying over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi added the Wadi al-Nadara region to the south of war-ravaged Homs was a "tourist area par excellence" and that there was a "tourism week" planned for the summer.
Syrian officials' comments are at odds with daily reports of grinding bloody battles between government and rebels forces, and pictures of cities such as Homs reduced to little more than a bombed-out shells.
Just last month more than 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed by a car bomb claimed by jihadi groups in Homs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
While Homs was one of the first cities to rise up against President Bashar Assad and earned the nickname the "capital of the revolution," the rebels' control over the city has since slipped. And Yazigi's comments came one day after news of a ceasefire deal allowing hundreds of rebel fighters to leave their holed up positions.
Beibars Tilawi, a Homs-based opposition activist, told the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper that the ceasefire "isn't what we wanted. But it's all we could get."
Control of Syria's third largest city would be a significant boost to Assad ahead of elections on June 3.
- Alexander Smith