A new move by the Syrian Interim Government, described by many as ‘positive,’ began with receiving Bab al-Salameh border crossing shared with Turkey in the northern countryside of Aleppo on October 10.
The total reception of the border crossing in terms of finance and administration from the management of Al-Jabha a-Shamiya Faction (The Levant Front), which used to manage it, came after nine months of Jawad Abu Hatab’s, the Head of the Interim Government, announcement of talks with the Turkish Government. These talks are concerned with the management of border crossings according to the international standards via the Interim Government, represented by the Ministry of Interior and the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports.
Abdullah Hammadi, the Deputy Head of the Syrian Interim Government for Financial Affairs, confirmed to Enab Baladi that there are talks about other border crossings, which link the Syrian north with Turkey.
Income to the Interim Government’s Fund
The Syrian borders with Turkey are linked with almost 10 border crossings. Only three of these are partially operating: Bab al-Hawa, in Idlib’s countryside, Bab al-Salameh, near Azaz in Idlib’s northern countryside and Jarablus, in the countryside of eastern Aleppo, in addition to Al-Rai, the opening of which has not been officially announced so far.
Bab al-Salameh is considered as one of the region’s most important border crossings for it is regarded as a commercial crossing through which trucks, on a daily basis, pass loaded with food and basic products, as well as building materials.
According to Qassem Qassem, the Director of Bab al-Salameh, customs charges are imposed on the trucks, in line with the type of the loaded materials.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Qassem explained that the border crossing has announced each material’s entry fee and cost, in addition to the ability to know the number of the daily passing trucks. Accordingly, a simple calculation can state Bab al-Salameh’s income, which doesn’t exceed 40 thousand dollars a day.
Baraa al-Shami, the official spokesperson of Al-Jabha a-Shamiya Faction, confirmed this saying that the revenues of the crossing were previously related to the passage of trucks, reliable to increase and decreased, and anyone who wants to see them can refer to the border crossing’s management, which estimates the income based on a list of specific fees.
Al-Shami explained that the border crossing’s income used to cover its staff’s requirements completely, and the surplus used to go to ‘Our People, We are with You’ Campaign – a civil campaign which aims to serve the people in the opposition-held regions in Aleppo’s countryside. The services included camps, schools, universities, roads and similar offerings.
According to Qassem, the border crossing’s income, after becoming under the interim government’s management will totally go to its fund. He confirmed that a financial officer, from the interim government’s side, would receive all the money, and then the government will act with regard to its many entitlements, hoping for this procedure to be positive and to lie in the interests of the Syrian people.
Enab Baladi communicated with Abdullah Hammadi, the Deputy Head of the Syrian Interim Government, concerning the border crossing’s financial situation under the government’s management. He refused to comment and only said, “So far, there is no information other than signing a memorandum between the government and the Al-Jabha a-Shamiya Faction on receiving the border crossing’s management only.”
A Respite of Financial Crises
The government suffered from a crisis in resources, especially after the ‘Friends of Syria’ fund had frozen its support- From early August, salaries stopped and employees were considered as volunteers, without any financial dues. The fund will provide employees with monthly bonus according to the available resources and each employee’s attendance percentage.
Abdul Hakim al-Masri, the Deputy of the Minister of Economy in the Interim Government, explained “The support provided by the government is already limited due to the lack of self-funding. Sometimes [that support] covers the salaries and on other times it doesn’t.”
It is expected that the fixed income of the border crossing will be a respite for the government from these crises and will re-operate a number of projects that have been suspended or threatened with the suspension of support. It is also important to keep the government from the specter of international political pressure that has affected it since its formation in March 2013.
The Advantages of the Government’s Management of the Border Crossing
Some predicted the change in the trucks’ entrance fees after the government took over the crossing, which Qassem also expected. “The current fees are service-oriented, low and disproportionate to the prices of materials,” saying that the fees were few, as they were compatible with the fees of other border crossings (Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus). “However, in case a government committee took the responsibility for all the border crossings, I expect that the fees will be higher because they are currently few, not more than 1% or 2% for each material.” He used cars as an example, which paid 2.5% of their value, meaning that the most expensive car was demarcated for 200 or 300 dollars. Therefore, “Fees must be raised to get revenues to serve the region.”
Qassem also expected that there would be a supply control by the government within the ‘liberated areas’ to control the prices, fearing manipulation by traders, who win whether or not the fees are reduced. “If the fees are reduced, a trader will benefit himself only. However, if the fees are increased, the money goes to a public body who spends it on citizens.”
On his turn, Al-Shami said that the neighboring countries were reserved to deal with the crossing because a military faction tackled its affairs. However now the situation is different with the new government, stressing that the transfer of the border crossing will be reflected positively in many ways: Traffic, documents and opening the door towards the other country, as well as trade, income and easy entrance of goods. With the government receiving the border crossing, revenues are expected to be observed in the public sector support projects. “In general, this will benefit the Syrian citizen.”
What is the Reality of the Turkish Pressure?
After the government took over the border crossing, activists reported that there was a Turkish pressure on al-Jabha a-Shamiya Faction to give the crossing to the government. Nonetheless, Qassem Qassem, the director of the border crossing, negated this. He also assured that talks about transferring the crossing have been going on a few months ago and stamps have been prepared, but, due to some procedures, the process has been postponed to this moment.
However, activists in the region have spoken of financial and administrative violations at the crossing and have repeatedly demanded that it be handed over to a civil body, as Turkey seeks to impose and support a number of civil institutions in the region similar to the national police.
Talks have been held over the past few days about handing over the northern countryside of Aleppo to the General Staff, which was formed on 18 September 2017 by the Syrian Interim government and welcomed by military and civil officials in the region.
Al-Shami confirmed that the government is showing the tendency to take over all the border crossings, hoping that the involved parties should accelerate the extradition process for the only solution is to get out from the random state to an organized one. “There must be an organized entity with an international recognition to oppose the [Syrian] regime and remove it from power. The [Syrian Interim Government] is qualified for the assignment and is the Syrian people’s basic front,” he said.