x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sanctions on Syria has cost country $4 billion, says oil minister

Sufian Allaw blames international sanctions for shortages of cooking gas and other basic goods, but the US ambassador to Damascus denied that the international sanctions are to blame.

DAMASCUS // Syria's oil minister has blamed international sanctions for shortages of cooking gas and other basic goods, saying the measures have bled US$4 billion (Dh14.6bn) from the nation's economy.

President Bashar Al Assad's regime must strike a balance towards the US and EU sanctions as it confronts a 15-month-old uprising, acknowledging their toll while denying the regime's grip on power is in any way shaken.

Sufian Allaw said Wednesday the punitive measures were to blame for the shortages that have left Syrians across the country standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for cooking gas, fuel, sugar and other staples.

The US ambassador to Damascus denied that the international sanctions are to blame.

"Our sanctions purposefully do not target oil and diesel imports, because we know that the Syrian people need both for their day-to-day lives," Ambassador Robert Ford wrote on the embassy's Facebook page.

Mr Ford said the government is using fuel imports for its tanks.

"If the Assad regime decided to cut its military expenditures, more diesel and oil would be available for the Syrian people to use," he said.

Before the uprising began in March 2011, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria's economy, with oil exports - mostly to Europe - bringing in $7 million to $8 million per day. The income was key to maintaining the $17 billion in foreign reserves that the government had at the start of the uprising.

Speaking to reporters in Damascus Wednesday, Mr Allaw said sanctions had cost Syria's oil sector about $4 billion.

Prices for a tank of cooking gas have spiralled to some $25 as shortages have spread across the country. Mr Allaw said Syria's gas production covers only half of the country's needs.

Officials are seeking imports from countries not party to the sanctions. A Venezuelan tanker carrying 35,000 tons of fuel docked in Syria on Tuesday, Mr Allaw said. Another is supposed to follow.

He said officials were seeking to arrange further gas imports from Algeria and Iran.