Syrian Government Overlooks Protests, Raises Oil Prices

Women drying figs in northwestern Syria (AFP)
Women drying figs in northwestern Syria (AFP)
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Syrian Government Overlooks Protests, Raises Oil Prices

Women drying figs in northwestern Syria (AFP)
Women drying figs in northwestern Syria (AFP)

The Syrian government announced a significant hike in oil derivative prices, despite the protests, just a month after increasing state workers' salaries, alongside a suite of economic measures that have exacerbated living conditions for many.

Addressing the People's Assembly, the government justified these economic decisions, attributing the nation's financial struggles mainly to the war.

Prime Minister Hussein Arnous remarked that defending the country negatively impacted the national economy, asserting that Syria has triumphed in its battle for sovereignty and dignity and preserving an independent nationwide decision.

Arnous presentation notably sidestepped the widespread protests in Sweida in response to the government's measures that saw a 300 percent increase in oil derivative prices.

It led to an unprecedented price surge and a collapse in the living standards for a vast segment of Syrians.

Currently, nearly 90 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, with more than 15 million needing humanitarian assistance, a trend sustained over the past years, according to this year's data from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The government acknowledged its limitations in addressing the economic crises, and the Prime Minister reiterated his administration's commitment to covering the costs of this year's public expenditure.

He summarized the procedures adopted by the government to tackle the situation, noting that the cabinet has taken a series of remedial measures, some of which are of phased features, others of long-term strategy, and all have development dimensions.

In a sudden move, the Ministry of Internal Trade announced on Sunday a decision to raise the prices of several oil derivatives, including diesel, free fuel oil, liquefied gas, and gasoline.

Economists predict that this will further increase the prices of goods, living necessities, and transportation.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that the sharp rise in the exchange rate has contributed to an increase in the bill for public expenditure, reaching figures exceeding the limits of some of the state's general budget.

It has also exacerbated the deficit gap between resources and public spending.

He pointed out that those with limited incomes suffer the most from the decline in their purchasing power.

Arnous indicated significant challenges in providing support in traditional ways, which drain the state's resources.

Meanwhile, protests in Sweida continued, with many demanding the implementation of United Nations Resolution 2254.

Local sources have reported calls for evening protests throughout the rural areas of Sweida province.

Citizens took to the streets in protest against the decision of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava) to increase diesel prices.

Hundreds of city residents participated in strikes in al-Qamishli, al-Malikiyah, and Ayn al-Arab after the Administration increased oil prices threefold in an area rich in oil and energy fields.

A Kurdish Rojava official revealed that the price increase included all industrial facilities, tourist vehicles, hospitals, private companies, and the management of civil and military institutions.

Hundreds of Qamishli residents, political figures, and activists protested Monday before the municipality headquarters, chanting against the Rojava decisions.

Politician Hassan Saleh said they hope the Administration will back down, warning that the price increase exceeds people's capabilities.

Furthermore, shop owners announced a general strike in al-Malikiyah against the price increase, calling families to participate.

Citizens of Ain al-Arab also went on strike and closed the industrial area completely. They marched the streets chanting against the Rojava decision.



The US Pier in Gaza is Facing its Latest Challenge — Whether the UN Will Keep Delivering the Aid

FILE - This image provided by the US Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)
FILE - This image provided by the US Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)
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The US Pier in Gaza is Facing its Latest Challenge — Whether the UN Will Keep Delivering the Aid

FILE - This image provided by the US Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)
FILE - This image provided by the US Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)

The US-built pier to bring food to Gaza is facing one of its most serious challenges yet — its humanitarian partner is deciding if it's safe to keep delivering supplies arriving by sea to starving Palestinians.
The United Nations, the player with the widest reach delivering aid within Gaza, has paused its work with the pier after a June 8 operation by Israeli security forces that rescued four Israeli hostages and killed more than 270 Palestinians, The Associated Press said.
Rushing out a mortally wounded Israeli commando after the raid, Israeli rescuers opted against returning the way they came, across a land border, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters. Instead, they sped toward the beach and the site of the US aid hub on Gaza’s coast, he said. An Israeli helicopter touched down near the US-built pier and helped whisk away hostages, according to the US and Israeli militaries.
For the UN and independent humanitarian groups, the event made real one of their main doubts about the US sea route: Whether aid workers could cooperate with the US military-backed, Israeli military-secured project without violating core humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence and without risking aid workers becoming seen as US and Israeli allies — and in turn, targets in their own right.
Israel and the US deny that any aspect of the month-old US pier was used in the Israeli raid.
The UN World Food Program, which works with the US to transfer aid from the $230 million pier to warehouses and local aid teams for distribution within Gaza, suspended cooperation as it conducts a security review. Aid has been piling up on the beach since.
“You can be damn sure we are going to be very careful about what we assess and what we conclude,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said.
Griffiths told reporters at an aid conference in Jordan this week that determining whether the Israeli raid improperly used either the beach or roads around the pier “would put at risk any future humanitarian engagement in that operation.”
The UN has to look at the facts as well as what the Palestinian public and militants believe about any US, pier or aid worker involvement in the raid, spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
“Humanitarian aid must not be used and must not be perceived as taking any side in a conflict,” Haq said. “The safety of our humanitarian workers depends on all sides and the communities on the ground trusting their impartiality.”
Rumors have swirled on social media, deepening the danger to aid workers, humanitarian groups say.
“Whether or not we've seen the pier used for military purposes is almost irrelevant. Because the perception of people in Gaza, civilians and armed groups, is that humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized" by parties in the conflict, said Suze van Meegen, head of operations in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Oxfam International and some other aid organizations said they are waiting for answers from the US government because it's responsible for the agreements with the UN and other humanitarian groups on how the pier and aid deliveries would function.
Questions include whether the Israeli helicopters and security forces used what the US had promised aid groups would be a no-go area for the Israeli military around the pier, said Scott Paul, an associate director at Oxfam.
The suspension of deliveries is only one of the problems that have hindered the pier, which President Joe Biden announced in March as an additional way to get aid to Palestinians. The US has said the project was never a solution and have urged Israel to lift restrictions on aid shipments through land crossings as famine looms.
The first aid from the sea route rolled onto shore May 17, and work has been up and down since:
— May 18: Crowds overwhelmed aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping some of the trucks of their cargo. The WFP suspended deliveries from the pier for at least two days while it worked out alternate routes with the US and Israel.
— May 24: A bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered to Gaza from the pier, and the US Agency for International Development later said all of it was distributed within Gaza.
— May 25: High winds and heavy seas damaged the pier and four US Army vessels ran aground, injuring three service members, one critically. Crews towed away part of the floating dock in what became a two-week pause in operations.
— June 8: The US military announced that deliveries resumed off the repaired and reinstalled project. The Israeli military operation unfolded the same day.
— Sunday: World Food Program chief Cindy McCain announced a “pause” in cooperation with the US pier, citing the previous day's “incident” and the rocketing of two WFP warehouses that injured a staffer.
“The WFP, of course, is taking the security measures that they need to do, and the reviews that they need to do, in order to feel safe and secure and to operate within Gaza,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said this week.
The pier has brought to Gaza more than 2,500 metric tons (about 5.6 million pounds) of aid, Singh said. About 1,000 metric tons of that was brought by ship Tuesday and Wednesday — after the WFP pause — and is being stored on the beach awaiting distribution.
Now, the question is whether the UN will rejoin the effort.
For aid workers who generally work without weapons or armed guards, and for those they serve, “the best guarantee of our security is the acceptance of communities” that aid workers are neutral, said Paul, the Oxfam official.
Palestinians already harbored deep doubts about the pier given the lead role of the US, which sends weapons and other support to its ally Israel, said Yousef Munayyer, a senior fellow at Washington's Arab Center, an independent organization researching Israeli-Arab issues.
Distrustful Palestinians suffering in the Israel-Hamas war are being asked to take America at its word, and that’s a hard sell, said Munayyer, an American of Palestinian heritage.
“So you know, perception matters a lot,” he said. “And for the people who are literally putting their lives on the line to get humanitarian aid moving around a war zone, perception gets you in danger.”