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Japan set to bolster Amman and Damascus

The government of Japan has announced that it will extend humanitarian aid to Jordan and Syria in anticipation of a possible fallout from the conflict in neighbouring Iraq.

According to Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima, who was addressing a news conference in Tokyo on Saturday, Japan was considering offering assistance to other countries neighbouring Iraq, but that "at this moment, however, [Japan] thought that Jordanians and Palestinians would be hardest hit, so we chose them as the first recipients of our assistance".

Jordan hosted more than one million people during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country currently hosts some 300,000 Iraqis, as well as 1.7 million Palestinian refugees, according to Refugees International, an international advocacy group for refugees.

Takashima noted that Japan was "in the last stage of finalising arrangements [for this assistance] and hopefully it [would] be announced sometime next week".

In addition to that, Takashima noted that five Japanese medical doctors were already in the Arab Republic of Syria to assist refugees, and that additional doctors and nurses would be dispatched in the future. Takashima said that financial aid to Syria was a possibility, but "at the moment, we are dispatching personnel instead of sending financial assistance to them".

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has stated that his government is supporting the decision by the US and UK on their decision to take military action against the government of Iraq. However, he noted that Japan could not participate in any military action due to constitutional constraints.

Takashima said Tokyo would provide whatever it could to assist international organisations and nongovernmental organisations to have rescue operations for the refugees and also to assist the people of neighbouring countries of Iraq, namely Jordanians and also Palestinians to cope with economic hardships that they might have to face.

Takashima also said that Japan would be willing to contribute "as much as possible" to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of postwar Iraq. However, he cautioned that, given current financial constraints, Japan's ability to assist was "rather limited compared to the time when the Gulf War [of 1991] occurred". Japan contributed US $13 billion to that effort, Takashima noted.

Takashima stated that the government of Japan believed that peace and stability in the Middle East was vital for the peace and security of the world, and for Japan as well.

"We will try our best to assist any effort to promote the peace and stability, and also the improvement of the living standards in that area to provide more prosperity in economic terms by whatever means we have," he said.

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