Syrian minister says electricity line with Jordan being repaired

Amman proposes to solve Lebanon's power shortages with supply through Syrian government territory

Electricity pylons in Kiswah, in the suburbs of Damascus suburbs. Reuters
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Syria's electricity minister said his government had begun repairing a power line to Jordan as the kingdom makes political and economic moves to accommodate President Bashar Al Assad.

Jordan has been seeking to enhance its regional role since a US administration regarded as more friendly to the kingdom replaced Donald Trump in January.

Amman has made the normalisation of ties with Damascus central to its foreign policy in recent months.

It proposed to help solve electricity shortages in Lebanon by supplying the country with energy through Syrian regime areas.

“We started on the works and finished a good part of this line,” Syrian Electricity Minister Ghassan Al Zamel said in Amman.

He did not say when the line could be operational.

For electricity to flow from Jordan to Lebanon, an old, mostly disused high voltage network built during Syria’s reliance on the former Soviet Union would need to be repaired, Jordanian and Syrian engineers say.

The network was further damaged during the Syrian civil war.

Speaking after a meeting in Amman with the Jordanian and Lebanese power ministers, Mr Al Zamel said repairs started two months ago but that “some obstacles” remain.

The ministers also discussed energy proposals floated by Jordan in the last couple of months, which entail supplying Lebanon with Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan.

Beirut hopes the World Bank will fund the required infrastructure works. There has been no indication as to who would foot the bill for buying the electricity or the gas.

The Lebanese government defaulted on its debt in March 2020, accelerating a collapse in the country's economy.

It also worsened power cuts that have been a part of life in Lebanon since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990.

Jordan has traditionally had little engagement with Lebanon.

Unlike other countries in the region, the kingdom has steered clear of becoming involved in Lebanese politics, although Jordanian officials privately view Hezbollah as a threat to regional stability.

But Jordan has this year sought to expand a middleman role that had mainly focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In 2018 Jordan reopened its main crossing point with Syria, and last month Amman agreed with the Syrian regime to relax some border restrictions in the hope of spurring trade.

After meeting his Syrian equivalent on September 22, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi expected Jordan’s electricity proposals not to meet US objections.

Mr Al Safadi told The National he was confident Washington would give the necessary waivers from sanctions imposed against the Assad regime.

Sanctions had complicated a Jordanian government announcement last month that flag carrier Royal Jordanian would resume to Damascus on October 3, after a nine year halt.

The flights did not resume and aviation sources in contact with Royal Jordanian say the airline has no plans to resume the flights.

Their resumption would require exemptions from US sanctions on the Syrian regime so as not to risk running foul of US law.

But high-level diplomatic and military meetings between Jordanian and Syrian officials have taken place since King Abdullah met President Vladimir Putin in Russia in late August.

European diplomats in Amman say Russia has renewed a six-year diplomatic push for Jordan and other countries in the region to normalise relations with President Assad's regime.

In 2010, the last year before the Syrian revolt and the civil war that followed, World Bank figures show that Syria exported $406 million worth of goods to Jordan. Jordanian exports to Syria amounted to $256m.

This represented three per cent of total Syrian exports and four per cent of total Jordanian exports.

With Jordan's economy in recession and unemployment at a record 24 per cent, Jordanian officials have privately framed the kingdom's moves in pragmatic terms, saying that the economy stands to gain from enhanced ties with the regime in Damascus.

Updated: October 07, 2021, 11:13 AM