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)
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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.


Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

Updated 05 June 2020

Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

  • Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna
  • The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord

TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.
Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army, LNA, said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed toward Sirte, far along the coast, and the air base of Al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.
The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord, GNA, and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced toward Tripoli.
The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a cease-fire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defenses and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.
The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.
Stronghold

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.
The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.
Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.
“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organized manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.