DAMASCUS: Damascus signed a major oil and gas exploration deal with a Russian company in the Syrian capital Wednesday which will allow for exploration in a section of Syrian waters, an AFP journalist witnessed.
The agreement was signed by Syrian Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas, Syria's General Petroleum Company and the Russian Soyuzneftegaz company.
The deal permits the exploration of an area of 2,190 square kilometres (850 square miles) in the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast.
The contract "is the first ever for oil and gas exploration in Syria's waters," head of the General Petroleum Company Ali Abbas told AFP.
"It will be financed by Russia, and should oil and gas be discovered in commercial quantities, Moscow will recover the exploration costs," Abbas added.
Oil Minister Abbas meanwhile said during the signing ceremony that the contract covers "25 years, over several phases," adding that: "The cost of exploration and discovery is $100 million."
Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main backers, as well as a key proponent along with the United States of peace talks slated for January in Switzerland.