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Syria regime allows imports from Saudi Arabia after decade of suspension

January 22, 2023 at 10:19 am

A view of a market in Idlib, Syria on February 15, 2021 [Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency]

The Syrian regime has reportedly agreed to allow the import of goods from Saudi Arabia after a decade-long trade suspension, amid reports of increasing reconciliatory relations between the two Arab nations.

According to the Arabi 21 news outlet, the Bashar al-Assad regime’s ministry of foreign affairs and expatriates agreed to allow the import of materials manufactured in Saudi Arabia, primarily that of sugar and petrochemicals. The outlet cited a document published by official regime pages, which shows the approval of the import of 10,000 tons of sugar from the kingdom.

Over the past few years, there has been much speculation that Riyadh is considering restoring full ties with Damascus, a decade after the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, as well as the subsequent isolation of the regime from the international community and much of the Arab world.

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Iyad al-Jaafari, an economic expert who spoke to the outlet, drew down such speculation, however, saying that the decision to allow Saudi imports is entirely an economic one. “Despite the ability of Syrian traders to find alternative sources for materials that are allowed to be imported from Saudi Arabia, the aim of the decision is to push Riyadh to reduce restrictions on trucks carrying Syrian goods, which are transported to countries in the Gulf.”

Al-Jaafari also said the decision “aims to soften” Saudi Arabia’s position on maintaining its restrictions on Syrian imports to the kingdom, which were imposed primarily due to the huge influx of narcotics – particularly captagon – from Syria over the years, mainly smuggled by hiding pills in goods in an attempt to fool customs officials.

As for the prospect of fully restoring ties with Assad, which Arab nations are increasingly deciding to do, Saudi Arabia has made some signs towards considering such a move, and earlier this week, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Bloomberg during an interview that the kingdom is working towards a way to engage in dialogue with the Syrian regime.

For now, however, Riyadh still openly maintains its position against a full restoration of ties, and last year refused to approve Damascus’s return to the Arab League.