Areas under the control of the Syrian regime are facing a serious fuel crisis after an Iranian credit line was halted six months ago, intensifying the impact of international sanctions and opposition blockages.
Shortages grew more acute a week ago, with hundreds of cars waiting in line at one Damascus petrol station daily, one witness said. Photographs showed snarled traffic for hundreds of metres, as new limits came into force; owners of private cars are now only allowed 20 litres of fuel every five days, according to the ministry of petroleum and mineral resources.
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President Bashar Al-Assad, speaking in February, said that the crisis was part of a siege imposed by governments that oppose him, including the US, which has imposed sanctions that broadly prohibit any trade with Damascus.
Opposition groups have also cracked down on contraband supplies to regime-held territory. Ahrar Al-Sharqiya has prevented all fuel tankers passing through the Abu Al-Zainuddin crossing into the occupied areas of Aleppo, while the official news agency of Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam, the leading faction in the northern stronghold, also released pictures of illegal supplies seized at the border yesterday.
Local sources in the eastern province of Deir Ez-Zor have alleged that the US-led international coalition forces against Daesh had recently bombed fuel tanks destined for the Syrian regime.
The amount of oil produced in parts of Syria recovered by government forces stands currently at 24,000 barrels per day, well short of the 136,000 barrels required. The petrol crisis follows fuel oil and cooking gas shortages over the winter.
Iran has been supplementing Syria's supplies since early on in the conflict, but since the renewed imposition of US sanctions after the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran has cut back on foreign funding.
According to pro-government newspaper Al-Watan, "not one oil tanker reached Syria" since the Iranian credit line was halted on 15 October. Prime Minister Emad Khamis told journalists earlier this month that Egypt had prevented Iranian ships sailing through the Suez Canal, an allegation which Cairo has denied.
Trying to secure supplies, the government met with private sector importers at the start of this year, asking them to make contracts to import refined products. However, these also hit obstacles linked "to logistical measures".
The oil ministry is reportedly working to boost supplies from northern Syria, an apparent reference to oilfields under the control of Kurdish-led forces. Some 20 per cent of the government's fuel has been supplied from middlemen in Syria's Kurdish areas throughout the war.
The latest shortages have raised questions as to whether a new round of protests against economic austerity could be on the horizon. As well as cuts to foreign funding, many residents also blame official mismanagement and corruption. With eight out of ten Syrians living below the poverty line, many cannot even afford the subsidised fuel, with some deeming the situation worse now than at the height of country's civil war four years ago.
However the government has attempted to shut down criticism on social media; the manager of Facebook page Hashtag Syria was arrested by security forces this month, accused of inciting panic and causing a run on petrol stations when they predicted further fuel price rises. The arrest drew rare public criticism from lawmakers and editors of state-run newspapers.