Syrian regime suddenly closes crossings, depriving Raqqa locals of many essential goods
Enab Baladi – al-Raqqa
“Markets in the city of al-Raqqa are almost empty of certain goods, chiefly vegetables imported from the Syrian regime-controlled areas.” This is how forty-year-old Khaled Allioui described the situation in al-Raqqa about two weeks after the Syrian regime closed its crossings with the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
Allioui works as a merchant in the al-Hal street market, the main market for selling vegetables and fruits in al-Raqqa. He told Enab Baladi that at this time of year, the city of al-Raqqa relies primarily on vegetables and fruits coming from the Syrian regime areas, including tomatoes grown in greenhouses, eggplant, pepper, cucumber, orange, and lemon, as well as some foodstuff and baby food and formula.
Since 20 March, the Syrian regime has unilaterally closed crossings to those wishing to enter or exit its areas towards the AANES areas, excluding students, employees, and people with medical conditions. The crossings’ closure halted freight and commercial traffic between the two regions.
Decreased number of daily goods shipments
Forty-something Mohammed al-Hussein, who works in an office for transportation at the coach station of al-Raqqa city, told Enab Baladi that transport and communication officials in the AANES did not comprehend the reason for the crossings’ closure despite some “powerful” transport sector figures’ attempts to contact Syrian regime officials for clarifications.
Al-Hussein said that the transport sector movement between northeastern Syrian regions and the regime’s areas was “buoyant” in the past two years, except for the lockdown period imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The sudden closure of crossings decreased the number of goods shipments traveling daily from al-Raqqa to regime areas from 35 to five or less.
In a statement to North Press Agency on 31 March, the spokesman for the AANES, Lukman Ahmi, attributed the closure of the crossings to the “Russian-Iranian conflict over the imports and management of those crossings.”
The residents of al-Raqqa complained that the crossings’ closure has resulted in higher prices of food and vegetables imported from the regime areas. Some of these goods have been doubled in value because of merchants’ monopolization. The depreciation of the Syrian pound against the US dollar, which reached record levels last March, has also led to increased prices of other goods.
A blow to pharmaceutical sector
The continued closure of crossings will cause a “health tragedy,” a pharmaceutical warehouse owner in al-Raqqa said and warned that medicine of high demand, such as blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiac medications, are running out of warehouses, as people were rushing to buy them fearing that crossings might remain closed.
The pharmaceutical warehouse owner, who requested not to be named for security reasons, called for expeditious solutions to the issue of the crossings, especially since it is not clear why they were closed in the first place.
Several crossings link the AANES areas with the Syrian regime areas. Some of these crossings are used for smuggling and are operating under smugglers and militias rules, particularly the al-Shuhail water crossing on the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor, besides other official crossings such as the al-Tayha crossing in Manbij, the al-Tabqa crossing near the city of al-Tabqa, and the al-Akirshi crossing in the south-eastern countryside of al-Raqqa.
Merchants from al-Raqqa said that other alternatives available to import goods from the regime’s areas are Iraqi Kurdistan and al-Bab city in Aleppo’s eastern countryside; however, the import cost from these areas is high due to their use of foreign currencies, namely the US dollar and the Turkish lira.
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