Jordan Reopens Main Crossing With Syria in Push to End Its Pariah Status

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Vehicles wait at a checkpoint at Jaber border crossing with Syria, near Mafraq, Jordan, today.
Vehicles wait at a checkpoint at Jaber border crossing with Syria, near Mafraq, Jordan, today.Credit: REUTERS/Alaa Al Sukhni

Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a boost for their struggling economies following a push by Arab states to reintegrate a country 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 they crossed through the gate. 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," Colonel Moayad Al Zubi, the head of Jaber crossing, told Reuters.

Syria, which blames Western sanctions for its economic woes, hopes wider business links with its southern neighbor 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 television.

Officials in Jordan, a U.S. ally, and Lebanon have urged Washington to ease sanctions on Syria.

Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt - another close U.S. ally - this month reached agreement for Egyptian natural gas to be sent to Lebanon via Syria using a pipeline built some 20 years ago in an Arab cooperation project.

A customs officer inspects travelers' belongings at Jaber border crossing with Syria, near Mafraq, Jordan, today.Credit: REUTERS/Alaa Al Sukhni

Arab states cut ties with Syria during its civil war, which the United Nations has said claimed more than 350,000 lives.

U.S.-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 United Arab Emirates and Syria restored diplomatic ties in 2018. Such moves are welcomed by Assad, who is seeking to shed his status as pariah to much of the outside world.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on September 24 at the Egyptian mission on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, in what Egyptian media said 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.

Assad has recovered most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control. Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest - the last rebel stronghold - and U.S. forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.

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 the U.S. 2019 Caesar Act imposed tough sanctions that prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus.

Jordanian businessmen have lobbied the government 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 there is a U.S. move to give a bigger space for Jordanian businessmen to deal with Syria," he said.

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