Syria’s oil minister acknowledged the heavy toll international sanctions have taken on the country’s oil sector, saying Wednesday that they had sucked about $4 billion from the economy.
Sufian Allaw said the sanctions levied by the United States and the European Union to put pressure on President Bashar Assad were to blame for the shortages that have left Syrians across the country standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for cooking gas and other products.
Mr. Allaw’s comments are part of a delicate rhetorical balancing act by the Damascus regime 15 months into the crisis that has posed the biggest threat to Assad family rule in four decades. The regime must acknowledge that international measures are squeezing the populace while denying that Mr. Assad’s control of the country is in any way shaken.
Before the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy, with oil exports — mostly to Europe — bringing in $7-8 million per day, according to David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. This 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 more than quadrupled as shortages have spread across the country, and Mr. Allaw said Syria’s gas production covers only half of the country’s needs.
To fill the gap, 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.
Syria’s uprising began with mostly peaceful calls for reform, but the government’s brutal crackdown on dissent led many in the opposition to take up arms.
The U.N. estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.