Surge in Lebanese crossing into Syria for supplies, new year celebrations

Due to the economic crisis in Lebanon, hard-pressed citizens have been returning to Syrian markets to stock up on home supplies. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 January 2020

Surge in Lebanese crossing into Syria for supplies, new year celebrations

  • Cheaper prices for food and domestic products coupled with lower health care costs have been cited as the main reasons for the sudden influx of Lebanese into Syria

BEIRUT: Officials in Syria on Monday reported a surge in the number of Lebanese citizens crossing into the war-torn country for supplies, and new year celebrations.

Of the 26,500 people who passed through border controls on Dec. 30 and 31, at least 11,000 of them were Lebanese, Al-Watan newspaper quoted a Syrian source as saying.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Lebanese visitor numbers to the country have dropped significantly, with the majority of those entering being Syrian workers, merchants, foreign relief workers and diplomats.

However, a customs official at the Al-Masnaa border post with Syria told Arab News: “The movement of Lebanese entering Syrian territories on Dec. 30 and 31 was very active … Talking about 11,000 Lebanese is very reasonable and perhaps the number is greater than that.

“We have not seen such a movement (of Lebanese citizens) since the beginning of the war in Syria. (The movement was) mostly confined to the Syrians.”

Cheaper prices for food and domestic products coupled with lower health care costs have been cited as the main reasons for the sudden influx of Lebanese into Syria.

Due to the economic crisis in Lebanon, hard-pressed citizens have been returning to Syrian markets to stock up on home supplies.

Khaled Al-Husseini, who owns a communications store in Chtoura near to Al-Masnaa crossing, said that $100 was equivalent to 85,000 Syrian pounds, which could buy a month’s supply of food items such as sugar, rice, pasta, grains and other consumables, including cleaning materials, in Syria.

Meat was also cheaper in Syria than Lebanon, he added, with the price of a kilogram of lamb in Syria being 19,000 Lebanese pounds ($12.58) compared to 30,000 Lebanese pounds in Lebanon. This was “after its price increased due to the liquidity crisis and the high dollar exchange rate in Lebanon,” said Al-Husseini.

He noted that there were many reasons for Lebanese crossing the border into Syria. 

“It may be for a visit to a religious place and to buy home supplies, clothes and shoes at the same time because these things are cheaper in Syria than Lebanon, especially sports shoes. Some visitors go to Syria for medical care because the costs there are cheaper than Lebanon.”

A money changer at an exchange located on a road leading to the border at Al-Masnaa, said business was brisk. 

“There are some Lebanese people who enter the free market at the Lebanese-Syrian border point to buy cigarettes and tobacco because it is cheaper than Lebanon, and they pay in hard (foreign) currency.

“And there are those who take dollars with them to Syria, and most of them are families of members of Hezbollah who get paid in dollars.”

One resident of a town near the Syrian border, said: “There were people, especially the younger generation, who spent New Year’s Eve in Syria, and they told me that the evening was very enjoyable and cheaper than in Lebanon.”

It takes less than one-and-a-half hours to drive between the capital cities of Beirut and Damascus with travel times even less from central Bekaa to Damascus where many Lebanese saw in 2020.

The customs official pointed out that restrictions applied to Lebanese citizens on the quantity of food and other items they could take out of Syria. This was limited to an estimate of personal needs and larger quantities meant for trade were not allowed.

A treaty signed between Lebanon and Syria allows Lebanese to reside in Syria for up to six months, while Syrians can stay in Lebanon for 15 days provided that they have hotel reservations. However, Syrians with a Lebanese sponsor have the right to stop in Lebanon for one year.

Lebanon hosts about 1 million Syrian refugees on its territory. 

Their return to Syria is conditional on obtaining approval from the Syrian authorities.


Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

A general view of oil tanks at Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, which is run by state-owned Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), near Adana, Turkey, February 19, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 min 15 sec ago

Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

  • Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran

ANKARA: A powerful explosion at a natural gas pipeline that brings gas from Iran to Turkey has halted supply to the country.
Flames caused by the explosion on Tuesday at the eastern border city of Agri were visible from nearby villages.
Iranian officials believe that the explosion near the Gurbulak border gate with Iran was caused by a terrorist attack. Turkish security forces are investigating the cause of the incident.
“The pipeline has exploded several times in the past. It is also likely that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has carried out the blast,” Mehdi Jamshidi-Dana, director of National Iranian Gas Co., told Iran’s state news agency IRNA. Turkish border guards left the area as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic. Jamshidi-Dana implied that the terrorists took advantage of this security vacuum.
Following the blast, a member of the outlawed PKK was killed in an operation carried out by Turkish border units while he was trying to cross into Turkey through Iran.
In early March, Turkish security forces launched another operation to track attackers near the Iranian border after one Turkish customs agent was murdered and several others were wounded by a rocket attack that hit an armored bus carrying customs staff.
Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran.
The same line was closed over a PKK attack in July 2015, while a subsequent attack in April 2018 was prevented by Turkish security forces.
Turkey is among the few customers of Iranian gas, although Iran’s total natural gas export to Turkey is dropping each year. Turkey imported 7.7 billion cubic meters of gas from Iran in 2019, equivalent to 17 percent of its total gas imports.
The pipeline’s repair works are expected to take about four days before gas exports can resume.
Earlier this month, Turkish-Iranian land and air borders were sealed over the coronavirus outbreak.