Syrian regime minimizes impact of fuel crisis
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
Syrian activists and observers have accused the regime of trying to conceal the severity of the fuel crisis that has paralyzed many sectors of the economy.
The impact of the crisis is palpable in many sectors and has affected many aspects of daily life, from transportation to bakeries and the operation of electricity generators, Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna.
Some bakeries have had to suspend operations due to the lack of mazout (fuel oil), he said, which has forced some people to return to traditional methods of baking bread using firewood.
Meanwhile, he noted, streets are "strikingly empty of cars and trash is piled up high in many areas due to the lack of fuel for garbage trucks".
The disruption of public transportation has sparked widespread ire, even among regime loyalists, he said, "to the point that expletives and curses are hurled profusely at the regime and ministers by citizens waiting in the queues".
Yet amid these shortages, he added, state media and pro-regime media outlets continue to quote officials who deny there is a crisis and assert that petroleum derivatives are abundantly available in the markets.
"They are claiming that more is being imported from abroad and alleging that there is an international conspiracy against them," al-Bassam said.
Fuel shortages, smuggling
The amount of gasoline allotted for individual use through smart fuel cards is 100 litres for private cars, 350 litres for mass transport vehicles and 25 litres for motorcycles, al-Bassam said.
These quotas do not come close to meeting people's needs, he said.
The allotted quantities are sold at the subsidised price of 225 Syrian pounds ($0.43) per litre, he said, with any additional amount starting at 375 Syrian pounds ($0.72).
Thousands of litres of gasoline are smuggled daily from Lebanon to Syria through illegal crossings in Lebanon's north and east, Damascus-area activist Mohammed al-Beik told Diyaruna.
Syrian tanker trucks have been spotted in these areas, he said.
"Brisk smuggling activity is also taking place through pipelines in the Baalbek area that were previously used for the smuggling of mazout from Syria to Lebanon," he told Diyaruna.
Smuggling also is carried out on a smaller scale via cars equipped with hidden auxiliary fuel tanks, he said, as well as via taxis and private cars that travel between the two countries and refuel in Lebanon.
Complaints about gas quality
"Most oil wells and refineries are located outside regime-controlled areas, which represent 75% of all oil wells in Syria," al-Beik said.
The quantities produced in regime-controlled areas are not sufficient to meet the needs of the local market, he added.
In previous years, a credit line extended by Iran provided Syria with oil in exchange for trade deals that heavily favoured the Iranian side, he said.
But when the Iranian support stopped, "the fuel shortage crisis erupted dramatically", he said, pointing out that the black market is seeing brisk activity as Syrians turn to illicit dealers to meet their need for fuel.
Many private car and taxi owners are complaining about the poor quality of the gasoline obtained with the smart fuel card, said Aleppo activist Ahmed al-Salem.
After a wait of up to days at times to obtain fuel, drivers are shocked to see their cars break down due to the poor quality of the gasoline, he told Diyaruna.
Additionally, he said, regime-affiliated militias are "seizing the fuel distributed to gas stations to pump out large quantities for their elements".
This has led to numerous disputes in regime-controlled areas, some of which have escalated into firefights, he said.