As winter approaches, Syrians in the northern province of Idlib and the surrounding areas are struggling with the high price of fuel, local activists said.
Prices for diesel and heating oil (mazout) have risen since Tahrir al-Sham gained control of the market through its subsidiary, Watad Petroleum Company, though the company has publicly denied it has any connection to the extremist alliance.
Market dominance has been achieved by targeting competition from main distributors and small traders, activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.
The prices of fuel in Idlib and on the outskirts of neighbouring Hama and Aleppo provinces "have risen to insanely high levels with the approach of the winter season", he said.
The price of one litre of fuel has risen from 200 Syrian pounds ($0.3) to 350 Syrian pounds ($0.67) in recent days, he said, noting that Watad has established a monopoly over the fuel market.
The new prices came on the heels of decrees that banned trading in fuel and restricted the practice to Watad, he said.
Northern Syria consumes large amounts of mazout "because it is the main fuel used for heating in the region", al-Idlibi said.
"Mazout is not available in the [regular] market at all, as the company controls the quantities made available," he said. This led to "the re-emergence of the black market, where the price per litre is 400 pounds ($0.77), at least".
The winter season is on the way, and prices are expected to rise further once it begins and "mazout becomes utterly indispensable", he added.
Price hikes 'across the board'
"The rise in prices is not limited to mazout, as they also extended to petrol, prompting those who work in the transportation sector to raise their prices," Idlib activist Musab Assaf told Diyaruna.
"The high prices of fuel impacted all prices without exception, as all traders, including traders of fruit and vegetables and basic commodities, raise prices using the high cost of transportation as an excuse," he said.
This has led to an increase in prices across the board, to such an extent that many residents now refrain from buying some items, al-Idlibi said.
"Tahrir al-Sham is directly responsible for this rise in prices, since it is the main supplier of fuel in the market," he said.
The extremist alliance administers the region, and has the ability, if it chooses, to "rein back prices and return them to their normal levels that are within the means of residents in the region", he said.
Meanwhile, a wave of high prices has hit the markets in the city of Idlib and surrounding areas as a result of the rise in fuel prices, he added.
Revenue stream for Tahrir al-Sham
"The prices of vegetables, for example, have increased by almost 100% because farmers rely on mazout to operate their irrigation water pumps," Idlib media activist Mahmoud Haj Kamel told Diyaruna.
The price hike also applies to the price of bread, he said, and alternative heating materials, such as wood, sawdust, pistachio shells and unrefined petroleum, which is mixed with other materials to turn it into a combustible fuel.
"Tahrir al-Sham is trying to withhold the truth from residents, claiming it has no connection to the Watad company, while in truth the company is Tahrir al-Sham’s main financial arm," Kamel said.
Through it, the alliance "is able to extract and refine oil products and control the distribution process", he said.
"The group seized control of the fuel market to make up for the loss of funding sources, cutoff of donations and severe drop in revenue from tax collection," Kamel said.
The high prices of fuel also adversely affect the work of some humanitarian organisations that operate in the region, he noted, especially tractor owners who transport water, as they contract with fuel vendors at set prices.