Black Market Thriving on Syrian Border

Black Market Thriving on Syrian Border

Endless supplies of cigarettes, a BMW or Mercedes for between $4,000 and $6,000 but fuel at vastly inflated prices — the black market is thriving on the Syria-Turkey border.

Abu Mohammad Faid, who turns up at Abu Ahmad’s car lot with two cousins, opts for an immaculate black BMW.

Rebels of the Free Syrian Army also count among Abu Ahmad’s customers.

Abu Tareq, captain of the FSA’s Al-Faruq brigade, says he chose “three vehicles to transport our fighters between Idlib and Aleppo (provinces).”

Business, however, is far from brisk, admits Abu Ahmad.

Business is distinctly better for Abu Ismail and his brother Hamid, who have set up a fuel depot in an abandoned building. In this region where the winter can be harsh, heating takes priority.

A man who gives his name only as Mustafa arrives with his son to buy a small quantity of oil, which today is going at 65 Syrian pounds (95 cents) per litre.

The conflict, in which an estimated 45,000 people have died and which has sent hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing into neighbouring countries, has substantially affected the cost of living in rebel-held areas.

Those who can’t afford to buy fuel “are burning olive branches for heating,” he adds grimly.

But many are still willing to pay the higher prices to fend off the biting cold of the winter.

Cigarettes, meanwhile, are plentiful, sourced from the Banns al-Nera sector of the northern city of Aleppo, which has been the theatre of an intense standoff between rebel fighters and regime troops since mid-July, with neither side able to gain the upper hand.

But with cash in short supply and many other traders trying to eke out a living in Aazaz, his returns these days amount to little more than three dollars a week — barely enough to provide for his family.