By Mahmoud a-Shimale and Avery Edelman

IDLIB: The cost of food items in northwest Syria rose last month after pro-government militias more than doubled fees imposed on commercial items crossing into opposition-held regions.

In mid-April, pro-government factions controlling the crossing points between regime-held areas of Hama province and rebel territory in Idlib province raised the fee for each vehicle transporting commercial goods from 200,000 Syrian pounds ($400) to 500,000 ($1,000).

The Islamic Judicial Authority in Idilb responded to the change by imposing a ban on fruits and vegetables imported from regime-held territory.

Although the authority later removed the ban, imports of a variety of essential products have dropped off and higher prices remain in place.

A fruit seller in Idlib City. Photo courtesy of Enab Baladi.

Opposition groups in northwestern Syria rely on trade with territories outside their control, including those held by the Syrian regime and Kurdish groups, as well as with Turkey, in order to alleviate shortages and provide essential items that may not otherwise be available.

There are two active crossing points where goods are exchanged between regime- and opposition-held areas: Abu Dali and Qalaat al-Madiq, both in northern Hama near the province’s border with rebel stronghold Idlib.

As the Syrian Voice reported last November, the most crucial imports coming from regime-held territory are fuel and food products such as sugar, tea and tomatoes, while opposition-held areas export Turkish vegetable oil, ghee, cosmetic products and wheat in the other direction.

Although there are no official rules governing this exchange system, standard procedures have developed over time, including the imposition of tariffs by both sides.

The most recent increase in the fee on vehicles exiting regime-held areas, to 500,000 Syrian pounds, nonetheless resulted in an unprecedented rise in the price of goods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Trucks transport goods between regime- and rebel-held territory.

According to Eyad Abo al-Nour, a trader in the southern Idlib countryside, the price of a kilo of tomatoes in his area has nearly doubled since the change, rising from 400 Syrian pounds ($0.80) per kilo to 700 ($1.40).

The price of a kilo of potatoes climbed even more dramatically, from 150 Syrian pounds ($0.30) to 350 ($0.70), according to a Syrian Voice reporter in Idlib province.

The sudden increase in prices was in part due to a reactionary decision by Idlib’s Islamic Judicial Authority, taken on April 17, prohibiting the import of fruits and vegetables from regime-held areas.

The authority reportedly hoped that putting pressure on the Syrian government and its supporters would lead to lower export duties and, consequently, lower prices at the market.

The ban on imports was reversed less than a week later on April 22, however, after food prices in Idlib rose even further and essential goods brought in from regime territory began to disappear.

Despite the Islamic Authority’s reversal of its decision, the movement of goods in and out of the area has remained at a near standstill, according to Mohammad al-Idlibi, an official at the Qalaat al-Madiq crossing. He says traders in Idlib are striking in protest of the export fees.

Meanwhile, civilians in opposition-held areas are seeking out alternatives to items whose prices have remained unusually high.

Samer al-Yamani, a resident of Marat a-Numan in southern Idlib province, told the Syrian Voice that he now plans to rely more heavily on cucumbers, which are grown locally and which can be purchased for 175 Syrian pounds per kilo ($0.35), rather than tomatoes, which are now 650 Syrian pounds ($1.30) per kilo in his area.

He believes that food costs may drop after about a month, when crops in the area, including his own field of tomatoes, are usually harvested.

The price of cucumbers is relatively low in Idlib province, where they are grown locally. Photo courtesy of Qasioun News Agency.

Economic cooperation between pro-government and opposition groups in Syria is not uncommon.

In one example recently reported by the Syrian Voice, towns across Idlib province receive electricity from a power line sourced in government-held territory.

Original Arabic article found here.