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Saudi Arabia Says It’s Given $100 Million to Northeast Syria

In this April 5, 2018 photo, workers remove rubble of a bridge that was destroyed last summer during fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria.

Saudi Arabia said early on Friday that it has contributed $100 million to northeast Syria for “stabilization projects” in areas once held by the Islamic State group and now controlled by U.S.-backed forces.

The Saudi move was blasted by the Syrian government which called it “disgraceful,” adding that its aim is to prevent the Syrian army from defeating insurgents in the country.

In Washington, the Trump administration said it is ending funding for Syria stabilization projects as it moves to extricate the U.S. from the conflict, citing increased contributions from anti-Islamic State coalition partners.

The State Department said it had notified Congress on Friday that it would not spend some $230 million that had been planned for Syria programs and would instead shift that money to other areas. Most of that money, initially pledged by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February, had been on hold and under review since he was fired in March. A small fraction of that amount was released in June.

Money 'will save lives'

The Saudi Embassy in Washington said the money “will save lives, help facilitate the return of displaced Syrians and help ensure that ISIS cannot reemerge to threaten Syria, its neighbors, or plan attacks against the international community.” ISIS is an alternate acronym for the militant group.

The money will go toward agriculture, education, roadworks, rubble removal and water service for the region, which is now largely held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

“This substantial contribution will play a critical role in the coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, that have been devastated by ISIS terrorists,” the embassy said in a statement.

The Syrian city of Raqqa was the seat of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” until it was liberated by the U.S.-backed forces last year.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces. In May, Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened to attack areas held by the U.S.-backed forces. Saudi Arabia long has opposed Assad’s government, funding and arming rebels who challenged his rule as the country’s 2011 Arab Spring protests devolved into a civil then regional proxy war.

Saudi policies call 'despicable'

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Damascus “condemns these despicable policies of the Saudi regime and calls on the Saudi authorities to stop these disgraceful and dangerous policies.”

“This disgraceful Saudi decision comes within the framework of the Saudi authorities’ total subjugation to the US administration,” the ministry’s statement read, adding that they come “at the expense of the Saudi people, who are already suffering from poverty and horrible economic decline.”

The U.S. military operates air bases and outposts in the Kurdish-administered region.

The Saudi Embassy described the $100 million as part of a pledge made by Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during a U.S.-sponsored conference in Brussels about the Islamic State group in July at NATO headquarters.