DUBAI—Syria would need about $60 billion in external assistance to help rebuild the country if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, a senior Syrian opposition figure said Wednesday.
The opposition would be approaching Arab and international countries in due course for loans to help rebuild the country and assist refugees, said George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council.
"We will be asking for loans at a later stage from the Friends of Syria and the international community," Mr. Sabra told reporters ahead of a conference in Dubai aimed at promoting private investment in a post-Assad Syria. "Syria is a founding member of the Arab League and a member of the international community, and they have a duty to help it."
The $60 billion would be needed for reconstruction and other assistance within the first six months of the ousting of Mr. Assad's government, he said. It would be needed to rebuild towns such as Homs and Aleppo, which have suffered massive destruction as a result of battles between government and opposition forces, and to assist about 5 million Syrians who have fled the country or been forced to leave their homes and relocate to other areas of the country, he said.
The SNC is part of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a new umbrella group for the Syrian opposition formed earlier this month, which has gained recognition from the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, France and the U.K.
Nevertheless, there are lingering concerns about the effectiveness of the opposition and about divisions between the various Syrian factions. Earlier this week, representatives of 13 Islamist factions released a video statement rejecting the new coalition.
The Syrian opposition has yet to formally request any loans from the international community, and is focusing instead on securing investment for the areas of the country controlled by rebel forces.
Osama Qadi, a Syrian opposition member who is coordinating investment commitments, said the Dubai conference had helped boost investment pledges to about $5 billion from Syrian and foreign businesses around the world.
But other officials said investments are likely to materialize only once the regime is toppled, even in areas controlled by the opposition forces.
"Businessmen remain afraid of investing in Syria because of the regime's possible retribution," said Samir Seifan, a Syrian economic expert who addressed the conference. "But the will is there to invest once the regime is deposed."
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are nearly half a million Syrians refugees registered with the agency in camps in nearby countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. However, the number may be higher as many Syrians have families and friends in those countries, and don't necessarily register with the UNHCR.
One Western diplomat approached the figure with caution.
"The need assessment of $60 billion may be a right," said Volkmar Wenzel, the German ambassador and the personal representative of the federal foreign minister for the Arab world. "However, the time frame of six months is highly unlikely, as we know from experience that matters of reconstruction and its implementation take time."
Mr. Wenzel, who was also the German ambassador to Syria between 2005 and 2008, said his country as well as other friends of Syria are interested in helping with reforms, reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Michael Corbin, the U.S. ambassador to the UAE, said in an interview that "it is vital to rebuild the Syrian economy, which has been destroyed by both Assads—[late president] Hafez Assad, and now Bashar Assad—through corruption, mismanagement and failed economic policies. Its not too early to talk about ways to about the ways to rebuild this economy."
The U.S. has yet to recognize the new coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. Mr. Corbin expressed support for the rebels' cause but didn't address whether the U.S. would recognize the new Syrian coalition as a first step toward extending financial aid to it.
The one-day Dubai investment conference has attracted some 400 Syrian and non-Syrian businessmen, Dr. Qadi said. Many Japanese and European companies with investments in Syria have contacted the Syrian opposition about continuing their projects in the country if the Assad regime is removed, Dr. Qadi added.