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Jordan fully reopens main crossing with Syria

Jordanians cross the border at the newly opened Jaber-Naseeb crossing between Jordan and Syriaon October 15, 2018 in Jaber, Jordan [Jordan Pix/Getty Images]
Jordanians cross the border at the newly opened Jaber-Naseeb crossing between Jordan and Syriaon October 15, 2018 in Jaber, Jordan [Jordan Pix/Getty Images]

Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a boost for the struggling economies of both countries, Reuters has reported. The move follows a push by Arab states to rehabilitate Syria, which they have shunned during its decade-long civil war.

A convoy of Syrian trailers waited to enter Jordan at the Jaber border crossing. Police officers with dogs searched cars and coaches as a stream of taxis with passengers also lined up to pass through customs and immigration control. "The security situation is now stable on the Syrian side and we hope it remains stable," explained Jordan's Colonel Moayad Al Zubi, the head of the crossing.

Syria, which blames Western sanctions for its economic woes, hopes that wider business links with its southern neighbour will help it recover from the devastating conflict 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," Jordanian Trade and Industry Minister Maha Al-Ali told state-owned Al-Mamlaka TV.

Officials in Jordan, a US ally, and Lebanon have urged Washington to ease sanctions on Syria. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — another close US ally — this month agreed 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 Syria during its civil war, in which the UN has said more than 350,000 people have been killed. US-allied Arab states, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, backed opposition groups fighting President Bashar Al-Assad for years, but Damascus was able to crush the rebels with military backing from Russia and Iran.

The UAE and Syria restored diplomatic ties in 2018. Such moves are welcomed by Assad, who is seeking to shed his status as a pariah to much of the outside world.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on 24 September at the Egyptian mission on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Egyptian media said that this was the first meeting at that level for about a decade. They discussed steps that would lead to an exit from Syria's crisis and "Syria's recovery of its position as an active party in the Arab framework," Shoukry told ON TV on Saturday.

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Assad has recovered most of Syria but significant areas remain outside his control. Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and north-west — the last rebel stronghold — while US forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and north-east.

Although the Jaber crossing has been partially open since 2018 after the Syrian government drove rebels from the south, trade has yet to recover to its $1 billion pre-war level. Jordanian officials said a visiting trade delegation from Syria, led by economy, trade, agriculture, water and electricity ministers, would discuss lifting tariff barriers.

Businessmen from Jordan had largely avoided dealing with Syria after America's 2019 Caesar Act imposed tough sanctions that prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus. They have lobbied the government in Amman to ask Washington to ease restrictions on imports from Syria.

The full reopening of the crossing left Jamal Al Refai, vice chairman of Jordan Chamber of Commerce, optimistic that Washington would soften its stand on Syria. "We now are feeling that there is a US move to give a bigger space for Jordanian businessmen to deal with Syria," he said.

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