AL-BAB, Syria – Vehicles regained access to the highway connecting the city of Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria, to opposition-controlled al-Bab in northern Aleppo province.
The regime has controlled the entire city of Aleppo since December 2016, while the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) controls al-Bab.
This highway linked the city of Aleppo to the northeast of the province, but it had been blocked since July 2014, when the surroundings became a front line between the opposition and the regime – especially after the latter. took control in July 2014 from the industrial city of Sheikh Najjar.
On March 18, the regime and the SNA agreed to open the commercial and civilian passage – dubbed Abu al-Zandeen – on the Alep-al-Bab highway. Details of the deal have not yet been made public.
This is the first passage linking the areas controlled by the regime to those held by the SNA, allowing access to land ports of entry with Turkey.
On March 23, Al-Monitor headed for the crossing point, where eight trucks were waiting at the last opposition checkpoint before leaving the crossing. “The time, effort and cost have been [saved] thanks to the opening of the crossing, ”a truck driver carrying vegetables told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He said: “We have been waiting for such a step for a long time.”
He added: “The delivery of cargo from al-Bab to Aleppo took about nine hours just to get to the al-Eis crossing in the southern countryside of Aleppo, with a distance of up to 200 kilometers [124 miles], crammed with opposition and regime checkpoints. Today, with the opening of the Abu al-Zandeen crossing point, the 50 kilometer journey takes less than an hour and a half.
At one point, four crossings directly linked areas controlled by opposition factions other than the SNA in northern Syria to those held by the regime. All the crossings were in areas controlled by the extremist opposition group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), namely the al-Mansoura, Murak, Qalaat al-Madiq and al-Eis crossings. All passages except al-Eis have been closed by the regime.
Al-Eis, in southern Aleppo province, was the only outlet for the movement of civilians and goods between opposition and regime areas. With the opening of Abu al-Zandeen under SNA and regime control, HTS no longer holds the only active passage.
Major Mohammed Ayoub, the SNA chief responsible for overseeing Abu al-Zandeen’s passage on the opposition side, told Al-Monitor: “Opening the passage was essential to reduce the burden on citizens and traders who have to travel long distances. He explained that the crossing is currently only used for commercial transit, although civilians will be allowed to cross at a later stage.
“The SNA… completely manages the passage on the opposition side,” he said. “There is a charge on the goods based on their type, and the proceeds are collected by the ANS. “
Not only does the crossing help support SNA, but it will also attract traffic from al-Eis, reducing HTS revenue. Turkey, the United States and other countries consider HTS an offshoot and rival of Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization.
For now, fees at the Abu al-Zandeen crossing vary, but an opposition economic committee will determine the fees set later, Ayoub noted. The regime does not currently charge a transit fee, a truck driver told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, noting that he was not sure he will impose a fee in the future.
As for the security situation, both the opposition and the regime control vehicles before crossing, each on their own. Ayoub said the economic committee has identified a list of substances that cannot leave opposition-controlled areas, such as fuel, livestock, flour and chemicals used to make explosives and ammunition.
The establishment of the Abu al-Zandeen crossing was announced on January 13, 2018, following a decision by the Syrian opposition-affiliated interim government. The crossing remained closed for unknown reasons, with monitors saying it was due to internal disputes between opposition factions. Ayoub did not provide any clarification in this regard, but noted that the passage has now opened in coordination with the Turkish government.
Traders and citizens say they are satisfied with the new passage, as its opening will revive trade movements in the north and east of Aleppo and in areas controlled by the regime. It offers traders, manufacturers and farmers easily accessible markets for their goods.
The crossing will also provide quick access link between Aleppo and Turkey passing through the al-Rai crossing, 30 kilometers north of al-Bab. This road will be an alternative to the Gaziantep-Aleppo highway, closed since 2012, being a contact area between the opposition and the regime. Work is underway to reopen the highway.
“The opening of the crossing point will have a positive impact on traders and citizens, as the cost of transport will be reduced, which will lower the price of goods,” said Mohammed al-Sheikh, a food trader in al-Bab. , to Al. -Monitor. “There will be greater freedom of movement of goods and greater competition between traders and manufacturers. “
Sheikh added, “Food and energy products in regime-controlled areas are cheaper than in opposition-controlled areas, and the regime will now benefit from Turkish products and be able to export its goods abroad.