Jordan fully reopens main crossing with Syria
Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a boost for their struggling economies following a push by Arab states to reintegrate a regime they have shunned during a brutal decade-long conflict.
Syria's Assad regime, which blames Western sanctions for its economic woes, hopes wider business links with its southern neighbour will help it recover from a devastating war and attract much-needed foreign currency.
"The aim of these understandings is to boost trade exchange between the two countries to achieve the interests of every party," Jordan's minister of industry and trade, Maha Al Ali, told state-owned Al Mamlaka television.
Officials in Jordan, a close US ally, and Lebanon have urged Washington to ease sanctions on Syria to facilitate trade.
Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt - another close US ally - this month reached agreement for Egyptian natural gas to be sent to Lebanon via Syria using a pipeline built some 20 years ago in an Arab cooperation project.
Arab states cut ties with the Syrian regime following its brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in 2011. At least 500,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.
US-allied Arab states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates gave some support to opposition groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad but the regime was able to gain the upper hand in the conflict with crucial backing from Russia and Iran.
Although the Jaber crossing has been partially open since 2018 after the Syrian regime gained control of the southern province of Daraa, trade has yet to recover to its $1 billion pre-war level.
Jordanian officials said a visiting trade delegation from the Syrian regime, led by economy, trade, agriculture, water and electricity ministers, would discuss lifting tariff barriers.
Before the conflict in Syria, the Nasib-Jaber crossing was a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Europe and Turkey and the Gulf.
Businessmen from Jordan had largely shunned dealing with Syria after the 2019 Caesar Act - the toughest US sanctions yet that prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus.
Amman hopes cross-border trade and renewed transport links will help boost its debt-ridden economy, badly hit last year by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jordanian businessmen have lobbied the government to ask Washington to ease restrictions on imports from Syria, where traders have long had close partnerships.
Syria’s only normally operating frontier crossing has been with Lebanon, and in recent years Iraq after the reopening of the Qaim crossing in 2019.
Assad has gained control of most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control. Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest - the last rebel stronghold - and US forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.
Jordan's state airline, Royal Jordanian, will soon resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time in nearly a decade.
The decision was one of several taken at a ministerial meeting to boost bilateral trade, investment and transport ties that ended on Tuesday in Amman.