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French Version

Syrian ports gain from Lebanon blockade

Thousands of shipping containers filled with vital imports have been turned away from Beirut Port by the Israeli blockade, causing commercial cargo bound for Lebanon to flow through Syrian ports. Containers destined for Lebanon have started arriving over the last few weeks at the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartous, where they are being loaded onto trucks and moved to Lebanon on roads bombed by Israel in the recent war, port officials told Reuters.

"We hope the Israeli blockade does not last but the number of containers for Lebanon is bound to rise if it does," said Bassam Fedda, head of traffic at Latakia, Syria's main port. "We have been under instructions from the prime minister to accelerate the clearing of cargo."

Fedda said around 2,000, 6-meter-long containers originally destined for Beirut had arrived in Latakia in the past weeks. A lesser number went through Tartous, which is not as well equipped to handle containers.

Latakia handled 42,573 containers in July and 30,927 containers so far this month.

Most of the cargo bound for Lebanon was diverted at the beginning of the war to Egypt, Malta and Cyprus. It has largely stayed there, with Beirut Port still closed to commercial traffic, although a cease-fire took effect on August 14.

Shipping agents said suppliers had realized it could be a long wait before Beirut Port opens, making Syria a logical alternative especially now Israeli bombing of roads between Lebanon and Syria had stopped.

Cargo transported via Syria has been so far mostly foodstuffs, they said. "Lebanon badly needs to import other goods and material for reconstruction, but it will be too expensive to move them through Syria," one shipper said.

"Importers are likely to wait for political uncertainty to ease before they place their orders, and they will prefer to ship through Beirut," he said.

Syria has acted as a conduit for humanitarian aid since the war started on July 12. Israel accuses it of also arming Hizbullah.

The Syrian government, however, recently threatened to close its borders with Lebanon if UN forces were deployed on the frontier to stop Hizbullah from rearming itself.

Israel says it will not lift its six-week-old sea and air blockade of Lebanon unless a UN force helps the Lebanese Army control the borders with Syria.

The United Nations has been pressuring Israel to lift its blockade, saying it is vital to Lebanon's economic recovery

Elie Zakhour, president of the International Chamber of Navigation, said 18,000 containers that should have arrived in the Lebanese capital have been unloaded instead in Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Syria.

Over the past week, three ships loaded with vital gasoline supplies were also turned away, the president of the Society of Petroleum Importers, Bahige Abu Hamze, added.

Factories that survived Israeli bombing during the 34-day war are unable to operate at full capacity partly because of escalating fuel costs, said Ghazi Koreitem, president of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.

The factories "are operating at 20 percent of capacity because of a loss of manpower and petrol price increases," Koreitem said.

Lebanon imports approximately 85 percent of its consumer goods.

The Daily Star

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