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‘From one crisis to another’: Gas queues and frustration as Damascus residents grapple with fuel shortages

Damascus residents tell Syria Direct of everyday life “at a standstill” as a gasoline crisis reaches a head for a second week in a row.

AMMAN: Izzedine* hasn’t gone to work at his public sector job for going on more than a week now—the company bus simply has no fuel left to pick him up from his home in Damascus.

His father-in-law, a taxi driver in the Syrian capital, now only drives passengers every other day. In between, he’s parking his taxi at the nearest gas station late at night simply to grab a spot in line, in the hopes that by the next day he’ll have a full tank of gas.

“He’ll call my wife and ask her to bring a thermos of tea [while he’s waiting in line],” Izzedine says. “He tells her: ‘My throat is drying out from the hours of sitting here waiting for my turn’.”

Damascus residents tell Syria Direct of everyday life “at a standstill” as a gasoline crisis reaches a head for a second week in a row. Drivers speak of waiting for hours at a time to fill up their cars at the handful of gas stations still operating.

In one photo posted on social media, four men use the roof of their car as a card table to while away the hours sitting in line.

In another post by a local news page, traditional Damascene dancers—men usually hired as entertainment at Syrian weddings—sing and drum to a winding queue of cars parked in a standstill outside a gas station.

“You see funny photos, people smoking argileh while waiting in line,” says Izzedine. “But it’s really not a joke at all.”

Pro-government media outlets routinely blame EU- and US-imposed economic sanctions for a gasoline crisis that residents say is paralyzing the capital—even as Damascus pushes a narrative of stability and normalization, following years of fighting that saw the government wage brutal siege warfare and aerial bombardment campaigns on the city’s formerly opposition-held outskirts.

Those frontlines are now quiet.

Even so, economic woes are now riling Damascus as well as other major cities across government-held territory. The government is struggling to manage an economy left in tatters by years of war, profiteering and corruption.

Government officials in Suwayda, Homs and elsewhere meanwhile complain of acute gas shortages.

In Aleppo, one man was rumored to have died last week of a heart attack after waiting in line for hours at a gas station—only to have his payment rejected. Photos shared online show seemingly endless lines of cars snaked around city blocks.

“You can’t imagine how long the queues are at the gas stations,” Hassan, one Damascus resident, tells Syria Direct. “There is a true crisis.”

Last Wednesday, an article in pro-government daily al-Watan cited US sanctions imposed in recent months on incoming petroleum shipments to Syria for the drastic shortage.

A US Treasury statement from March said the sanctions were aimed at “parties involved in petroleum shipments to the Government of Syria,” adding that it had “sanctioned Iranian and Russian private and public sector entities involved in procuring Iranian oil for Syria.”

Not one oil ship has reached Syria since last year, according to al-Watan.

Speaking to Syria Direct on Thursday, Shadi al-Ahmad, an economist in Damascus, similarly blamed US sanctions for the current fuel shortages, calling them the “main reason” for the crisis hitting Syria.  

“How can something like gas be well or poorly administered [by the government] if it isn’t in supply to begin with?” he said.

In Damascus, everyday Syrians say they are the ones “bearing the burden” as the fuel shortage reaches its second week.

“We won’t be relieved of this [crisis] as long as there are corrupt and unjust people in charge of us,” Damascus resident Hassan says.

Muhammad, a food trader, tells Syria Direct he is simply “trying to make ends meet” amid the crisis, as his business relies on transporting goods between his hometown on the outskirts of the Damascus and the central districts of the city.

“If I can’t obtain any fuel, I can’t do my work,” he says. “It’s something tied to my business.”

“Like other traders, I’m finding ways to deal with the crisis.”

Muhammad has begun stockpiling fuel for his business in case he runs out—simply to keep his vehicles running.

“I’m always asking around for people who are selling fuel on the black market so that I can buy some,” he says.

“You always have to prepare yourself for surprises.”

The current fuel crisis comes just months after a severe shortage this past winter of the gas cylinders used across the country to fuel stoves and keep homes warm.

The gas cylinder crisis was blamed on everything from corrupt gas traders to high demand and—as with April’s fuel shortage—tough international sanctions on the Syrian government.

“Everyone is worried right now about this crisis,” says Izzedine. “They are scared that what happened with the gas cylinders will happen again now, the same story: a black market, playing around with prices, monopolization.”

Damascus resident Hassan, meanwhile, suggests that the Syrian government’s claims of normalization still remain elusive.

“We’re just going from one crisis to another,” he says.

*Syria Direct changed the names of all Damascus residents quoted in this report to protect their identities.

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