Al-Shuhail Water Crossing of Syrian regime’s smuggling routes in Deir Ezzor closed by United States

Demonstration banners against SDF in al-Shuhail area, in the countryside of Deir Ezzor-2 May 2019 (al-Sharqiya 24)


 The areas of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (NES) in Deir Ezzor are associated with the regime-held ones by ten river crossings, which serve vital roles in reviving the latter’s markets in Deir Ezzor governorate, especially crossings related to smuggling oil. 

Al-Shuhail crossing point, located in the SDF-held areas, precisely on the opposite side of Boqruss town, eastern Deir Ezzor, is one of the most prominent and active crossing points in the region. It was targeted several times by the International Coalition Forces (ICF) before being completely closed to smuggling operations.

How is that? 

Al-Shuhail crossing is used extensively to smuggle oil from the Kurdish “NES-held areas” by brokers from the region who happened to have ties with the “al-Qatirji” oil company, upon which the regime has relied for years. 

Al-Shuhail crossing was opened in October 2019, following coordination between a leader in “Deir ezzor Military Council” affiliated to the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), called Khalil al-Wahsh, and another person from Boqruss town working for “al-Qatirji”.  

According to Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor, in the beginning, the aim of opening this crossing point was to transport crude oil from the SDF-controlled areas to those of the regime. 

However, with the expansion of imposed sanctions by the United States to cover all those dealing with the regime, including “al-Qatirji” oil company, it was used to smuggle almost everything between east and west of Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor. 

 The smuggled goods included cement, iron, industrial materials, and foodstuffs coming from the regime-held areas, in exchange for crude and refined oil from the SDF-controlled territories, according to Enab Baladi’s correspondent.

Recently, the US forces have tightened control over these crossings to reduce and curb smuggling operations in compliance with the imposed sanctions, as well as to track down those dealing with the al-Qatirji” oil company in the region.    

Al-Qatirji family name came to spotlight in the past few years as a key broker between the so-called “Islamic State (ISIS)” (during its control on the oil fields) and the SDF on the one hand, and the Syrian regime, on the other hand, to transport fuel from the eastern region.

The US Treasury imposed sanctions on Syria’s “al-Qatirji” oil company in September 2018, for being a key broker between the Syrian regime and ISIS, through facilitating oil shipments between the two parties, in addition to providing the regime with fuel, arms shipments, and financial support.

Due to the widespread of coronavirus (Covid-19) and amid fear of contagion from the regime-controlled areas, the NES-held Kurdish regions have imposed restrictions on the movement within its regions, and closed all its crossings with the regime and with the Northern Iraq region.

Among precautionary measures taken to prevent contagion, an SDF patrol besieged al-Shuhail crossing on 24 March, while the ICF air patrols monitored movement between the two banks of the river. However, several smugglers did not adhere to these procedures and resumed their smuggling activities. 

 The US forces also placed a barrier of military vehicles at the crossing for the first time to declare its complete closure. Consequently, The US forces are depriving the regime of crude oil in its areas, where there is already a shortage of fuel. 

Even if these measures were undertaken to stop coronavirus infection, they also fall under the category of the US growing sanctions on the Syrian regime despite international calls to suspend them.  

In a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, Russia, and China, along with other countries, demanded the lifting of the US and European sanctions on Syria, and appealed for the immediate and complete lifting of those measures that they described as “illegal, repressive and arbitrary economic pressure.”

At the same time, the US forces have been strengthening their presence in oil fields, northeastern Syria, since the end of last year, amid statements by US officials about the importance of the Syrian oil, and US attempts to “secure it.”

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