Syria briefly shuts down border gate with Turkey over clashes

May 20, 2012, Sunday/ 17:07:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK

Syria briefly closed its Bab al-Hawa border gate with Turkey on Saturday, apparently because of a military operation carried out by Syrian troops against a village near the border.

Although 10-15 trucks crossed through the Turkish side’s Cilvegözü border gate on Sunday morning to reach Bab al-Hawa, the gate, through which 20-30 trucks have been passing on a daily basis in recent weeks, remains closed due to armed clashes in the region.

“Around 15 trucks crossed through the Cilvegözü border gate on Sunday morning, but the customs office on the Syrian side has stopped giving service. So, the trucks are waiting at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing,” Mustafa Yılmaz, a board member of the İstanbul-based International Transporters’ Association of Turkey (UND), told Today’s Zaman. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed the report in a news conference on Sunday and added that the gate is now open.

The closure of the border gate has seemingly to do with armed clashes involving tanks on the Syrian side, where opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime have waged a year-long resistance. When the border gate was first closed on Saturday, a line of nearly 150 trucks formed at Hatay’s Cilvegözü border crossing. However, passengers and vehicles can still cross into Syria through a border gate at Yayladağı town in the same province.

For Turkish land transporters, the Syrian route is not only much costlier since the Assad regime greatly raised taxes on Turkish goods and the fees Turkish trucks need to pay, but it is also potentially dangerous for Turkish truck drivers. “Lately, armed groups have reportedly hit vehicles with machine-gun fire and blocked roads,” Yılmaz said. In earlier attacks, around 30 Turkish trucks have been targeted and some drivers have been killed.

According to UND, about 3,000 trucks have been adversely affected by the turmoil in Syria and the worsening relations with the country of Turkey’s southern provinces that border Syria. In 2010, Turkish trucks made 106,750 trips to Syria, a figure that decreased to 83,519 in 2011. However, the decrease has been much sharper in 2012. In the first two months of 2011, the number of trips by Turkish trucks was 18,647, but this figure has plummeted to 1,758 in the same period of 2012, a 91 percent fall. Land transports via Syria to the Gulf countries, which is an important market for Turkish products, have suffered nearly as much. In the first two months of 2012, they have fallen 69 over the same period last year as per UND figures.

Naturally, trade has been very negatively affected. In 2011, the number of Turkish firms exporting to Syria was 3,269, but this figure dropped to 538 in the first two months of 2012. The number of Turkish firms to import goods from Syria in 2011 was 644, and that figure dropped to 108 in the first two months of 2012. Total Turkish investments in Syria amount to nearly $1 billion. In an effort to find alternative routes to reach Gulf countries, bypassing Syria, Turkey has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt regarding roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) and land transportation.

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