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Syria closes border to Lebanese citrus, bananas

  • Syrians cross into Lebanon through the Syrian-Lebanese border checkpoint in the eastern village of Masharih al-Qaa, Lebanon, Thursday, March 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: Syria has barred the export of Lebanese citrus and banana through its territories in retaliation for the burning of several Syrian fuel tankers over the past weeks, farmers and owners of packaging plants in south Lebanon said.

“The decision by the Syrian side to forbid Lebanese trucks to pass through Syria ... amounts to an immense crisis affecting the owners of banana and citrus packaging plants and farmers across Lebanon,” said a statement read during a demonstration in Qassmieh, 10 km north of Tyre.

Gunmen and angry citizens who sympathize with Syrian opposition groups have torched several fuel tankers this month, accusing some Lebanese oil companies of shipping large quantities of fuel oil for use by the Syrian army.

The farmers’ statement said produce had been piling in trucks and plants for more than 10 days as both growers and exporters suffer losses.

“We call for a series of demonstrations to save what is left of our agricultural season,” the statement said.

Reda Fadel, a farmer and owner of one of the plants, said the Syrian government’s decision was weighing heavy on the business of Lebanese farmers and their families.

“Political impact has got so severe that it threatens the income of thousands of Lebanese and Syrian families that work in this sector,” he said, calling on politicians to intervene with the Syrian side.

Over the past few weeks Lebanon’s vital export route to the GCC states was halted after clashes on the Damascus-Amman highway intensified.

Syrian rebels have told Lebanese truck drivers that the road to Jordan would remain closed indefinitely, the head of Lebanon’s Farmers’ Association told The Daily Star Monday.

Caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan said Friday his ministry reached an agreement with Egypt to allow for an alternative export route.

“The agreement will include facilitating access for Lebanese trucks and drivers through roll-on roll-off ships, which will carry the trucks to Egypt allowing them to cross to the GCC states,” Hajj Hassan said.

He also said the Public Works and Transportation Ministry had signed a similar agreement with Turkey, allowing for a series of exceptions.

Hajj Hassan said that over half of Lebanon’s agricultural exports in 2012 were shipped through maritime routes, dismissing criticism from the Farmers Association – which has said the ministry consistently failed to take action on finding alternative export routes.

While the Farmers Association said Lebanon’s agricultural exports declined by more than 1 percent in 2012, the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon estimated it grew by 14 percent last year.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2013, on page 5.
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