North Syrian food-for-diesel trade routes invite smuggling

AMMAN: One of the trucks in a caravan transporting supplies to the Islamic State (IS) as part of a routine food-for-diesel agreement in north Syria was stopped while passing through rebel-held territory for reportedly smuggling ammunition in a grain shipment, a local journalist who was at the scene told Syria Direct on Monday.

 Photo courtesy of Sham News Network.

Only one of the five trucks that was stopped on Sunday was carrying ammunition, Hussein Nasir, an activist who was at the checkpoint in Ahras during the incident and photographed the truck, told Syria Direct on Monday. Ahras is one of the last rebel-held towns in the northeast Aleppo countryside alongside the border with territory controlled by the Islamic State. The caravan originated in Idlib province to the west.

Rebel-led security forces from nearby Marea were tipped off by fellow rebels in Idlib “who informed them of the trucks’ cargo and their license plate numbers,” said Nasir. Al-Jabha a-Shamiya rebels stopped the trucks shortly thereafter at a checkpoint in Ahras, 12km southwest of the Victory Army’s stronghold in Marea, the journalist added.

 Al-Jabha a-Shamiya  security forces stop a smuggling convoy on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Hussein Nasir.

The five vehicles purportedly transporting food “were carrying ammunition under it,” reported pro-opposition Shaam Network News on Facebook Sunday.

In June, Victory Army rebels in the northern Aleppo countryside reached an agreement with IS to “keep the road open” for merchants travelling between rebel-held and Islamic State territory, according to a June 28 statement by the Victory Army in Aleppo.

The Victory Army benefits from the arrangement by maintaining an ongoing source of fuel for Syrians living in areas under its control, while IS receives a steady supply of food supplies.

However, whether out of sympathy or opportunism, it appears that merchants in the rebel-held north are taking advantage of these active and open trade routes.

“The owner of the truck [carrying the munitions] was a grain merchant in the Idlib countryside, but secretly moved weapons for IS under the pretext of moving food,” says Nasir. 

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award.

Ghalia Muhkalalati

Ghalia Muhkhalalati holds a degree in computer science, where she attained the third highest grade in Syria for her year. She worked as a private teacher for displaced persons when the revolution began and arrived in Jordan in 2013.

Samuel Kieke

Samuel Kieke was a 2014-2015 CASA I fellow in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in Arabic Language and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and International Relations and Global Studies.