At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

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This picture taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on October 15, 2018, shows Jordanian policemen checking cars at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. The main border crossing between Jordan and war-torn Syria reopened on October 15 after a three year closure, an AFP photographer reported. (AFP)
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This picture taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on Ocotber 15, 2018, shows the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. (AFP)
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This photo taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on October 15, 2018, shows portraits of Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) and his late father King Hussein of Jordan above the checkpoint at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. (AFP)
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This picture taken from the Jordanian Mafraq governate on October 15, 2018, shows Jordanian policemen checking cars at the Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria (Nassib crossing on the Syrian side) on the day of its reopening. The main border crossing between Jordan and war-torn Syria reopened on October 15 after a three year closure, an AFP photographer reported. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive regional trade

  • Lebanese businessmen are delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing
  • Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels 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 toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
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 toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels and jihadists.

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.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates via land.
Before 2015, “it would take maximum three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
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.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally 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-ton 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.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.


Moroccan police use water cannons to disperse teachers’ protest

Updated 56 min 28 sec ago
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Moroccan police use water cannons to disperse teachers’ protest

  • Authorities were trying to end a rally of an estimated 15,000 teachers in front of parliament
  • Teachers across the country have been striking for three weeks in a row

RABAT: Moroccan police used water cannons early on Sunday to disperse thousands of young teachers protesting in the capital Rabat for better work conditions, a witness said.
Authorities were trying to end a rally of an estimated 15,000 teachers in front of parliament where they planned to spend the night ahead of an even bigger demonstration called by a coalition of leftist opposition parties, unions and civil society groups.
Policemen in anti-riot gear moved into action after negotiations between officers and teachers to ask protesters to leave the area broke down after several hours.
Authorities had offered to send busses to drive them to places where they could spend the night, teachers said. They had been chanting “Liberty, dignity, social justice.”
There was no immediate comment from the police or the government.
Some teachers said they were protesting against contracts on which they have been hired. They are demanding full benefits and pensions like regular public servants.
Teachers across the country have been striking for three weeks in a row.
Of the country’s 240,000-strong teacher workforce, 55,000 have been hired since 2016 under a new contract system.
Morocco has come under pressure from international lenders to trim the civil service wage bill and strengthen the efficiency of the public sector.