LONDON - Syria is facing a halt in imports of diesel needed to power
heavy vehicles including army tanks, as a stream of shipments from
Russia and other sources has dried up over the past four weeks, industry
Ordinary Syrians have been grappling with fuel supply shortages for
months as Western sanctions prompted most European oil firms to drop
trade with Syria. The halt in Russian supplies could exacerbate the pain
already felt by many struggling to make a living with limited access to
fuel and power.
Thousands of people have been killed in Syria during a year-long popular
revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule, a conflict in which the
military's use of heavy vehicles has been prominent.
Shortages of gasoil, which can be marketed as diesel, are already
hurting local industries. In the northeast for instance, agriculture is
suffering because farmers have been unable to secure fuel for tractors
and other agricultural machinery.
"We can't farm because they've cut off the electricity and they haven't
been distributing fuel. So we can't use our farming equipment, for
example. We've lost our livelihood" said Melhem, a farmer from Hasakeh.
As many as nine cargoes of gasoil were delivered per month this year
according to data from a shipper -- mainly from Russian ports -- but
also from political allies Iran and Venezuela. Average cargoes contain
around 30,000 tonnes of fuel.
However, in the past four weeks, not one shipment of gasoil has reached
Syria's oil ports Banias and Tartous, according to industry sources.
Oil producer Syria has two refineries, but needs to import large amounts
of gasoil and other fuels to meet domestic demand, both for heating and
Industry sources say the last shipment of refined oil seen to reach
Syria was delivered from Russia aboard the Cape Benat on April 11.
The transaction was handled by Galaxy, a Monaco-based shipper, who said a
tightening of EU sanctions in March had forced his firm to cut ties
with Syria's distribution company Mahrukat.
Non-EU firms could take over as intermediaries, but so far none appear to have acted on the opportunity to step in.
The EU's move also forced Greek company Naftomar, previously a mainstay
of Syrian imports, to halt deliveries of the heating fuel liquefied
petroleum gas (LPG) used in Syrian homes and businesses.
LPG imports are seen as peaceful because they play a vital role in
regions with limited infrastructure for piping gas and a Naftomar
director said in April the stoppage would make it difficult for Syrians
to cook and keep themselves warm.
Six cargoes of LPG were delivered to Syria in March, but no further
imports of the fuel have been seen since and trade sources say shortages
are getting worse.
"There are shortages of LPG in Syria now and they have growing problems
on this front... there is a paralysis," said a trade source.
An Iranian tanker in late March reached Syria with a cargo of gasoil,
and left in April with a cargo of Syrian gasoline, in what appeared to
be an exchange of refined oil products between allies.
It is not clear why Iranian shipments have also dried up, although Iran
is also grappling with Western sanctions and many of its oil tankers are
being used to store unsold crude oil.
Venezuela's government confirmed it had sent at least two shipments of fuel to Syria in February, but has not sent any since.
Western sanctions prohibit EU and US firms from buying Syrian oil or
doing business with Syrian companies handling imports of crude and