Syria to close govt agencies for 2 days amid fuel crisis

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's government will close state agencies for two days in December due to severe fuel shortages caused by a disruption in the arrival of supplies and Western sanctions, state media reported Tuesday.

The decision to close the institutions on Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 comes at a time when many employees have been unable to make it to work because public transportation has been badly affected by the crisis.

Fuel shortages have paralyzed government-held parts of Syria over the past few weeks in one of the worst crises since the Syrian conflict began 11 years ago. The crisis has hit almost every sector as fuel is needed for power generators that supply factories, telecommunications networks and other institutions with electricity amid widespread power cuts.

The fuel crisis was one of the reasons behind riots in the southern Druze-majority Sweida province Sunday that left a protester and a police officer dead and seven others wounded.

The crisis comes during the winter season when many people rely on diesel for heating. On Monday, the Ministry of Internal Trade almost doubled fuel prices to reach 5,400 pounds (93 cents) for a liter of diesel while gasoline reached 4,900 pounds (84 cents).

The price of subsidized fuel did not change and each vehicle has the right to 25 liters every 10 days but recently they have been getting the amount every 20 days instead..

A taxi driver in Damascus, who identified himself as Abu Ali, said he only works three days a week because of the shortages, adding that the government is not giving out enough subsidized fuel and he cannot afford to buy from the black market, which is double the price.

“I'd rather rest,” he said, than work at a loss.

Iran, a main backer of President Bashar Assad since the conflict began, decided last month to increase oil supplies to Syria by 1 million barrels a month to reach 3 million barrels a month to help the Arab country through its fuel crisis, according to the pro-government Al-Watan daily.

Before the conflict began, Syria produced some 380,000 barrels of oil a day, of which 250,000 barrels were used domestically and the rest were exported. Now, production has dropped sharply as Syria’s largest oil fields in the country’s east are controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters.

Syria’s oil ministry says government-controlled areas now produce about 80,000 barrels a day.

Syria’s Oil Minister Bassam Toamah told state TV last week that the fuel shortages are the result of Western sanctions and a 50-day delay in supplies. That's an apparent reference to oil-rich Iran, which has been the main source of fuel since the sanctions were imposed during the early years of the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands.

Iran-flagged tanker Lana made it to Syria last week, months after it was seized near Greece with the assistance of the United States in an attempt to seize oil due to American sanctions imposed on Tehran. Iran retaliated by seizing two Greek oil tankers in May and released them last month.

Although the Iranian tanker, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, delivered the oil it is not enough to ease the crisis.

“Life has become completely paralyzed especially because of the diesel shortage,” said Samir Asfour, who owns a cement brick factory in the Damascus suburb of Adra. He said heavy machinery and trucks rely on diesel. “This could stop the whole construction business.”