Syrian prime minister blames sanctions for price increases

Hussein Arnous said recent price increases for fuel and bread came after lengthy studies

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Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous on Wednesday blamed international sanctions for the recent increase in the prices of bread and diesel.

"The economic blockade and unilateral coercive procedures have hindered the arrival of vital needs [to the people]," he said.

Mr Arnous called the Caesar Act illegal and singled out the US for waging an "economic war" on the country, including US-issued sanctions in 2019 known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act against President Bashar Al Assad and his compatriots.

A series of economic sanctions on Syria have been imposed over the past decade by the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and members of the Arab League in response to the regime's repression of civilians in the war.

Mr Arnous said that government subsidies would not be completely lifted but might be restructured for the benefit of the country's collapsing economy, without elaborating on the methodology.

“The government subsidises bread daily with five to six billion Syrian pounds (about $2 million), and it will never lift this subsidy but will restructure it to reach the segments that deserve it,” he said.

He said the government's Sunday decision to raise the price of bread by 50 per cent and fuel by 25 per cent was difficult and was made after a long period of study.

“We all know that a package of bread today costs the State 1,200 Syrian pounds ($0.47) and a litre of diesel costs SYP 1,967 ($0.78). Therefore, the package of bread continues to be subsidised by 1,000 pounds ($0.39) and the litre of fuel by about 1,500 Syrian pounds ($0.59)”, he said.

The Syrian Prime minister said that "pre-war oil production was at 365,000 barrels per day.. of which 180,000 were consumed domestically."

"But today, due to the control of criminal gangs and the US occupation of oil fields, the state produces in the areas under its control about 18,000 barrels," he said, which puts an additional financial burden on the Syrian government.

Observers have repeatedly said that those affected most by these measures are Syrian civilians, who fear further price increases in food and medicine.

"Rising fuel and bread prices will only deepen the suffering of everyday Syrians. Syria is already witnessing record levels of food insecurity and these latest price hikes will further exacerbate the crisis," said Mona Yacoubian, Middle East conflict analysis and prevention expert at the US Institute of Peace.

Coinciding with the price increases, a presidential decree on Sunday raised public sector salaries by 50 per cent, placing the minimum wage at 71,515 Syrian pounds ($28), up from 47,000 pounds ($18).

In a second decree, Mr Al Assad raised public sector and military pensions by 40 per cent, according to Sana.

As of July 14, one US dollar is equal to 2,525 Syrian pounds according to the Syrian Central Bank.

- With additional reporting from Dahlia Nehme and AFP

Updated: July 14, 2021, 2:05 PM