Syrians face severe fuel crisis, Damascus blames US sanctions

Drop in oil smuggling from Lebanon, dwindling Iranian supplies have compounded the problem.
Thursday 17/09/2020
A file picture shows Syrian motorists line up at a gasoline station as they wait to fuel up in Aleppo, Syria. REUTERS
A file picture shows Syrian motorists line up at a gasoline station as they wait to fuel up in Aleppo, Syria. (REUTERS)

DAMASCUS--Amid war and the undetermined toll of the coronavirus pandemic, Syrians how to reckon now with scarce fuel they cannot even afford.

In government-controlled regions of Syria, people spend hours waiting in line to fill up their tanks.

The cost of 20 litres (5.2 gallons) of gasoline is now 25,000 Syrian pounds ($11) on the black market while the subsidized price at gas stations is 5,000 Syrian pounds ($2.3).

Most Syrians make less than $100 a month, which leaves them unable to afford black market prices.

Syria’s oil minister claimed the severe fuel crisis that has hit his country is the result of Western sanctions, and also allegedly because oil fields in eastern regions have fallen under control of American troops and US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The minister, Bassam Tomeh told state TV in an interview aired late Wednesday that oil supplies have been delayed because of the situation. “We have stocks that we are trying to manage in a rational way,” he said, without elaborating.

US sanctions on Iran have compounded the fuel crisis faced by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Tehran is a key Damascus ally that has supplied it with crude oil throughout Syria’s nine-year civil war.

Separately, oil smuggling into Syria from neighbouring Lebanon has dropped recently amid tight measures by Beirut authorities as Lebanon has been gripped by its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

The US sanctions on Syria were tightened in June targeting anyone doing business with Assad’s government regardless of where in the world they are. The US says those doing business with Damascus will be exposed to travel restrictions and financial sanctions.

“American sanctions are depriving us of importing (enough for) our oil needs,” Tomeh said.

The government is also struggling to fight fraud and corruption in fuel distribution, according to Tomeh.

Assad’s government controls Syria’s two oil refineries but one of them is currently undergoing renovation work.

Tomeh said the Banias Refinery needs 10 more days to become more operational, which would raise fuel supplies about 25%.

“Everyone knows that our oil fields that used to supply our fuel needs are under American occupation,” Tomeh said.

Tomeh promised the “crisis is about to end”. but did not explain how.  He urged Syrians to be patient. “The war is not over and the economic war is at its most intense now,” he said.