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Lebanon hails reopening of Nassib crossing

A picture taken on July 6, 2018 shows Syrian government soldiers arriving at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa, after they regained control over it from rebel forces. AFP / Mohamad ABAZEED

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun, officials and industrialists Monday hailed the reopening of the crossing point between Syria and Jordan, stressing that Lebanon should seize this opportunity to ship its goods through Nassib border crossing. Before the Syrian conflict broke out, the bulk of Lebanon’s exports went through Nassib and other crossing points between Syria and Jordan.

The closure of the border point has caused havoc to Lebanon’s exports which fell dramatically in the past five years.

The successive governments were forced to subsidize the exports of the Lebanese made goods through the sea.

But this maritime shipping was three to four times more expensive than exporting these goods through the Syrian border.

Aoun welcomed the move, saying it will benefit the Lebanese economy by revitalizing productive sectors and slashing the cost of exporting goods.

In tweets from his official account, Aoun said that “everyone should take advantage of the opportunities available to support the national economy” in light of the opening of the Nassib border crossing.

Caretaker Economy Minister Raed Khoury told The Daily Star that the Economy Ministry is willing to step in case the Lebanese industrialists and farmers encountered difficulties in Syria,

“The industrialists and farmers are now free to transport their goods through this crossing point. We still have a trade agreement between Lebanon and Syria and for this reason I don’t expect any problem. But in case there are some technical problems or misunderstanding then we are willing to talk to the Syrian officials to facilitate the transportation of the Lebanese goods,” the minister said.

Jacques Sarraf, a leading industrialist, expressed his extreme pleasure for the reopening of Nassib border crossing point, adding that all Lebanese industrialists and farmers were enthusiastically waiting for this step.

“Even if the Syrian and Jordanian customs charged fees for every truck, we will be still saving much more money than shipping the goods by the sea. I expect our exports to increase dramatically in the coming few months,” Sarraf said.

The crossing had been shuttered since 2015, when rebels took over on the Syrian side, but was recaptured in July by Syrian government forces and reopened Monday morning.

The crossing used to be a major transit point for multibillion dollar trade from Turkey, Lebanon and Syria to Jordan and the Gulf beyond. With its closure, Lebanese agriculture in particular suffered from longer, less viable and more costly transit via sea.

It remains to be seen, however, whether and when Lebanese goods will begin passing through the crossing again, as political factions remain split over the nature of relations with Syria. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri a main opponent of normalizing ties with Damascus before a political settlement to the 7-year-old Syrian civil war is reached has said he rejects any “blackmail” on the part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to allow the transfer of Lebanese goods through the crossing.

At the same time, parties in Lebanon aligned with Damascus, including Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, have stepped up pressure on Hariri to normalize relations with Assad.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2018, on page 4.

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