Syrian rivals profit from trade across the front lines

BEIRUT: Barrels of oil, sacks of sugar, crates piled with fruit: goods worth millions of dollars criss-cross Syria’s battlefronts daily, waved through by bitter enemies who have become business partners.
Syria’s government, rebels, Kurds, and even militants are linking up with well-connected businessmen to turn a profit at crossings connecting otherwise divided territory.
Multiple sources from rebel-held parts of Syria including military commanders, businessmen, fighters, and residents have described to AFP a sprawling, quasi-official network of deals and arrangements on cross-country trade.
Critics say they have allowed armed groups and businessmen, some linked with President Bashar al Assad’s government, to profit from the divisions tearing Syria apart.
One key junction where business takes place is Morek, between the northwestern province of Idlib — which is held by various rebel and militant forces — and government-controlled Hama.
On the rebel side, Morek is managed by Al Qaeda’s onetime Syria branch Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), with the other side run by government forces.
Year round, vegetables, biscuits and clothes leave Idlib, while fuel, sugar, and spare car parts are trucked in through Hama from across swathes of government-held territory, sources at the crossing and others familiar with operations there said.
“Morek is the most important crossing between rebels and the regime, given the trade coming and going through there,” said Abu al Huda al Sorani, who administers the border for HTS.
“It’s an official transit point recognised by us both, and it’s the money that makes things move.”
In an interview with an AFP correspondent at the crossing, Sorani said Morek “was opened with the mediation of businessmen who have links with the regime.”
“One man monopolises the trade on the regime side,” he said.
Sorani declined to provide a name for the businessman, but multiple sources familiar with operations at the crossing pointed to a mysterious businessman known only as Ghawar. — AFP