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French Version

Lebanese dread rumored closure of Syrian border

Lebanese dread rumored closure of Syrian border
Hundreds of trucks line up at crossing points

Industrialists, farmers and economists on Thursday warned that Lebanon will suffer grave economic consequences if Syria shuts down the border crossings. "Most of Lebanon's agricultural exports go through Syria and if Damascus decided to close all crossing points than we will be deprived of more than $1 billion in export revenues a year," economist Elie Yashoui told The Daily Star.

The prospect of a full land blockade on Lebanon surfaced again when Syria closed the border crossing at Qaa, in the northeast of the country.

The Lebanese government has accused Syria of smuggling weapons and terrorists into Lebanon, a charge strongly denied by Damascus.

Some observers say that by closing the crossings, Syria aims to discourage the deployment of international observers along the border.

The only crossing point that remains open now is in the Masnaa area in the Bekaa Valley.

Traders said hundreds of trucks loaded with goods and agricultural produce are lining up the Masnaa crossing point. They added that Syrian authorities are still facilitating the departure of Lebanese vehicles.

Yashoui said Lebanon exports more than $180 million worth of goods such as plastic, machinery and cement to Syria alone. "We export $140 million to Jordan, $120 million to Iraq, $180 million to Saudi Arabia and more than $200 million to the UAE. All these exports go through Syria," Yashoui said.

He added that Syria will lose a market in Lebanon if the border is shut completely.

"The odds are against us because the Lebanese market represents $200 million to Syria while our losses will be more than $1 billion," Yashoui said.

He added that this is not the first time that Syria has closed border crossings with Lebanon

"As far as I remember, Syria shut down its border with Lebanon more than 10 times since the country's independence. Our problem with Syria is chronic and has nothing to do with the current regime," Yashoui said.

Farmers have also expressed concern about the closure of most crossing points.

"The government must come up with an emergency plan in case Syria closes the last crossing point with Lebanon," Antoine Hwayek, the head of the Farmers Association, told The Daily Star.

Hwayek said the government should secure ferries in order to transport trucks to the port city of Aqaba in Jordan.

"From Jordan the trucks will travel to the Gulf states and Iraq. But I don't think the government will take this step because it will cost lots of money," Hwayek said.

He added that Syria is an important market for Lebanon.

"Syria buys most of our bananas and the closure of the border will be a big blow to the farmers," Hwayek said.

But Hwayek believes that there may be one positive aspect of the closure.

"Lebanese farmers will be able to sell all their produce such as apples and tomatoes because the regional states will not be able to ship their products through the border," he said.

Fadi Abboud, the head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, warned that the closure of the border crossing was a "double-edged sword," saying both states would suffer economically if it remains shut.

"Jordan and some of the Gulf states will also suffer because they won't be able to export their goods to Lebanon," Abboud warned.

He added that if Syria closes the border with Lebanon, the international community may apply sanctions on Damascus because the border is considered an international red line.

"We may be forced to ferry our goods from the sea. But we hope both the Lebanese and Syrian governments will work out their problems and avoid a crisis," Abboud said.

Beirut 22-06-2007
The Daily Star

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