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Reopening of Nassib Crossing: A Step Towards Normalization with Neighbors

Reopening of Nassib Crossing: A Step Towards Normalization with Neighbors

Monday, 22 October, 2018 - 07:15
A vehicle arrives at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening on October 15, 2018 in the Jordanian Mafraq governorate. Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching towards a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from opposition fighters as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.

Syria's international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.

The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on October 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.

It is "a step towards reintegrating with Syria's surroundings economically and recapturing the country's traditional role as a conduit for regional trade," he told AFP.

The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.

"For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step towards normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus," Heller said.

Assad's forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and militants.

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.

The country's exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.

The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib's reopening would reconnect Syria with an "important market" in the Gulf.

But, it warned, "it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country's production capacity has been largely destroyed".

For now, at least, Nassib's reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.

Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.

Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.

"Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq," he told AFP.

Before Syria's war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria's non-oil exports.

The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria's southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.

Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.

Last month, Syria's Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-tonne truck had been increased from $10 to $62.

Syria's foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank says.

And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.

Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.

Lebanon's farmers "used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing," said Bechara al-Asmar, head of Lebanon's labor union.

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