Syria to close government agencies amid fuel crisis

Shortages have been caused by disruption to supplies and western sanctions, state media says

A billboard depicting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the capital Damascus. Syria has been hit by severe fuel shortages. Reuters
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Syria's government will close state agencies for two days in December due to severe fuel shortages caused by a disruption in the arrival of supplies and western sanctions, state media reported Tuesday.

The decision to close the institutions on December 11 and December 18 comes at a time when many employees have been unable to make it to work because public transportation has been badly affected by the crisis.

Fuel shortages have paralysed government-held parts of Syria over the past few weeks.

The crisis has hit almost every sector, as fuel is needed for power generators that supply factories, telecoms networks and other institutions with electricity amid widespread power cuts.

This crisis was one of the reasons behind riots in the southern Druze-majority Sweida province on Sunday, in which a protester and a police officer were killed and seven people wounded.

It comes during winter when many people rely on diesel for heating. On Monday, the Ministry of Internal Trade almost doubled fuel prices to reach 5,400 Syrian pounds ($0.93) for a litre of diesel while petrol reached 4,900 Syrian pounds.

The price of subsidised fuel did not change and each vehicle has the right to 25 litres every 10 days. But recently motorists have been getting this quantity every 20 days instead.

An employee counts Syrian banknotes at the Commercial Bank of Syria in Damascus.  AFP

A taxi driver in Damascus, who identified himself as Abu Ali, said he only works three days a week because of the shortages, adding that the government is not giving out enough subsidised fuel and he cannot afford to buy from the black market, which is double the price.

“I'd rather rest [than work at a loss],” he said.

Iran, a main backer of President Bashar Assad since the country's civil war began in 2011, decided last month to increase oil supplies to Syria by 1 million barrels a month to reach 3 million barrels a month to help Damascus through its fuel crisis, according to the pro-government Al Watan daily.

Before the conflict began, Syria produced some 380,000 barrels of oil per day, of which 250,000 barrels were used domestically and the rest exported. Now, production has dropped sharply as Syria’s largest oilfields in the country’s east are controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.

Smoke rises following an air strike on an oil field in Qamishli, north-east Syria. Reuters

Syria’s Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources says government-controlled areas now produce about 80,000 barrels per day.

Oil Minister Bassam Toamah told state TV last week that the fuel shortages are the result of western sanctions and a 50-day delay in supplies.

That's an apparent reference to oil-rich Iran, which has been the main source of fuel since the sanctions were imposed during the early years of the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands.

Iran-flagged tanker Lana made it to Syria last week, months after it was held near Greece with the assistance of the US in an attempt to seize oil due to American sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Iran retaliated by seizing two Greek oil tankers in May and released them last month.

Although the Iranian tanker, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, delivered its cargo, it is not enough to ease the crisis.

“Life has become completely paralysed especially because of the diesel shortage,” said Samir Asfour, who owns a cement brick factory in the Damascus suburb of Adra. He said heavy machinery and lorries rely on diesel. “This could stop the whole construction business.”

Updated: December 07, 2022, 7:04 AM