BEIRUT Nov 2 Syria's main private banks saw customer withdrawals grow by hundreds of millions of dollars in the third quarter of the year as the uprising against President Assad continued to take its toll on the economy.
Figures published by the Damascus stock exchange showed that the decline in assets and deposits, which hit lenders in the first six months of the year, was sustained from July to September.
Bankers say many people have pulled savings out of Syria since the outbreak of unrest in mid-March.
In the third quarter, deposits in private banks fell as much as 18 percent. But the drop in the private banks, which account for less than a third of Syrian banking, may be sharper than in the state banking sector.
Chris Phillips of the Economist Intelligence Unit in London said customers at Syria's private banks tended to be wealthier individuals who were more likely to have bank accounts in the Gulf, Lebanon or Jordan where they could move their money.
"What we are seeing is the transfer of the assets of a middle class and upper class in Syria that are able to do this," he said. "It's not necessarily right to suggest it is happening across the board."
Bank Audi Syria's customer deposits fell 11 percent in the third quarter to 56.56 billion Syrian pounds ($1.15 billion), 31 percent lower than at the start of the year.
Bemo Saudi Fransi saw deposits fall 18 percent to 71.12 billion pounds, down 31 percent so far this year, while Bank of Syria and Overseas' deposits dropped 9 percent to 62.47 billion pounds, down 25 percent since January.
Assets of the larger private banks were also down by as much as 30 percent since the start of the year, though some smaller banks did report modest rises in both assets and deposits.
The seven-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has triggered U.S. and European Union sanctions on Syria's oil industry and several state businesses and hit the country's tourism and trade.
Central Bank governor Adeeb Mayaleh told Al-Watan newspaper last week that Syria had spent $1.2 billion of its $18 billion foreign reserves financing investment projects after international financing was withdrawn.
Authorities had also spent $3.7 billion financing imports, using money from a fund set up for that purpose, the newspaper quoted Mayaleh saying. (Editing by David Cowell)