At Syria border, Jordanians dash over for cheap shopping

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Syrian vendor Abu Alaa waits for Jordanian customers to sell them pomegranate at the recently reopened Nassib border post in the Daraa province,at the Syrian-Jordanian border south of Damascus on November 7, 2018. (AFP)
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A Syrian vendor sets up his stall of fruits at the recently reopened Nassib border post in the Daraa province,at the Syrian-Jordanian border south of Damascus on November 7, 2018. (AFP)
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Bahaa Al-Masri wait for Jordanian customers to sell them date-filled pastries and sesame biscuits at the recently reopened Nassib border post in the Daraa province,at the Syrian-Jordanian border south of Damascus on November 7, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2018

At Syria border, Jordanians dash over for cheap shopping

  • Syrian regime forces retook control of the Nassib border crossing from rebels in July, and last month reopened it after a three-year closure
  • Syrian officials have registered more than 33,000 arrivals since October 15, against 29,000 departures

NASSIB, Syria: Near the recently reopened border with Jordan, former Syrian rebel fighter Bahaa Al-Masri sells date-filled pastries and sesame biscuits to Jordanians flocking across the frontier to snap up bargains.
Syrian regime forces retook control of the Nassib border crossing from rebels in July, and last month reopened it after a three-year closure.
Just several hundred meters (yards) from the frontier, 26-year-old Masri counts the boxes of biscuits he still has left in a green plastic crate strapped to the back of his motorbike.
“For two weeks I have been bringing sweets from Damascus and selling them to Jordanians who come to buy them here because they’re cheaper,” says the ex-combatant, wearing a black jacket and woollen hat.
“I sell 27 to 30 boxes a day.”
Masri hawks the pastries every day in a rest area on the edge of Syria’s southern province of Daraa for three Jordanian dinars each (around $4, 3.5 euros).
“Thank God, when the border opened there was work again here, after I spent around six years without a job,” Masri tells AFP.
Because money was tight, he joined a rebel group that paid him a monthly wage to fight.
“I picked up arms so we could eat and live,” he says, crates of green apples and oranges stacked behind him.
Daraa was once seen as the cradle of Syria’s seven-year uprising, but in July regime forces took back control through a military push and deals that saw rebels surrender.
Under those agreements, brokered by regime ally Russia, many fighters chose to leave with their families to remaining opposition areas in northern Syria.
But Masri opted to stay and settled his status officially with the returning government authorities, a move likely to see him called up for military service.
Until the summons comes from the army, he is happy taking advantage of the money-making opportunities on offer now the border is open.
Also looking to cash in are Jordanian drivers, jokingly dubbed “sailors,” who ferry goods from Syria across the frontier for a small commission.
A whole economy has sprung up again since the border begun working.
At the crossing itself cars sit side by side in several long queues waiting to cross over into Syria.
Large trucks, some refrigerated, also wait their turn.
Before the war, “we used to come over to Syria every day — sometimes just to have breakfast,” says Mohammed Sayes, a 25-year-old from Jordan’s adjacent border town of Ramtha.
It was his second such trip since the border reopened “to see the sights, go out and eat” cheap, he says.
“Yes, Syria lived through a war, but we suffered a siege,” says the specialist in tourism management.
“When the border reopened, it was like paradise opened up again.”
Further up, dozens of people stand in line outside a row of small pre-fabricated buildings to have their Jordanian passports stamped by Syrian officials.
Jordanian driver Muflah Al-Hurani, 53, is crossing the border to drive a family back home from the Syrian capital Damascus just over 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the north.
He has been going in and out of Syria on an almost daily basis since Nassib reopened, to transport passengers or shop for relatives.
“I bring back fruit and vegetables including potatoes, onions, garlic, as well as children’s clothes made of cotton,” he says.
“And I fill up my car will fuel... It’s less than half the price (in Syria) despite the war.”
Not far off, the former arrivals hall is being repaired after it was damaged in the war.
Workers carry rubble away and a rebel slogan is still visible.
Damascus hopes the reopening of Nassib will boost its war-ravaged economy.
Before the conflict, the crossing was a key passage for trade, linking Syria — but also Lebanon and Turkey — with Jordan and the Gulf beyond.
Syrian officials have registered more than 33,000 arrivals since October 15, against 29,000 departures.
Among those waiting to head across the border are also Syrians returning home, car roofs piled high with suitcases and blankets.
Last week, a Jordanian official said 6,000 Syrians had gone back to their country, among them 517 registered refugees.
The head of the Nassib crossing Col. Mazen Ghandour says the number of people heading into Syria is increasing daily, and that most of those coming are Jordanians.
“Most Jordanians come to shop and then go home,” Ghandour says. “Others go to see Damascus.”
A few meters away, a Syrian woman living in Jordan smiles as she waits to cross over with her family for a two-week visit.
“Damascus is a blessing... That’s why everybody wants to visit after being cut off for so long,” she says.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.