World News

Jordan and Syria reopen Nassib border crossing

JABER, Jordan/BEIRUT (Reuters) - The border crossing between Jordan and Syria opened to people and goods on Monday after being closed for three years, reopening a route that used to carry billions of dollars of trade for countries across the region.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

The Nassib crossing opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), a Jordanian border official said. By 1130 GMT Reuters had seen a Syrian business delegation cross into Jordan, and a couple of dozen civilians leave Jordan, but no trucks yet in either direction.

“We are fully ready to receive passengers and transport of goods,” Imad Riyalat, head of the Jaber checkpoint on the Jordanian side, told Reuters. “We expect the traffic to be slow now at the start, but in coming days we expect passenger movement to pick up.”

Jordan’s state news agency Petra said 199 people crossed to Syria on Monday, of whom 37 were Syrians and the rest Jordanians.

A Syrian business delegation arrived at the crossing saying the opening would herald a boost in trade. “We expect an improvement in both countries’ economies,” Mohammad Hamsho, a prominent Syrian businessmen, told Reuters.

The Syrian government retook the area in July during a Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels from their stronghold in southwest Syria.

The crossing’s closure in 2015 cut a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Turkey and the Gulf, and Lebanon and the Gulf, in multi-billion dollar annual trade.

While the crossing was closed, Syria’s only normally operating frontier crossing had been with Lebanon, which itself has no other functioning land borders.

Lebanon relies on Syria for overland connections to all other countries because its only other frontier is with Israel, with which it has no ties.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted: “Opening Nassib crossing will revive various Lebanese productive sectors and lower the cost of exporting goods from Lebanon to Arab countries.”

Petra said Syrians entering Jordan must first obtain security clearance from Jordanian authorities, as has been the case throughout the their country’s war.

Government officials who were absent from the opening said privately the move would not signify a thaw in political ties with Damascus which have long been cold.

Jordan, a staunch U.S. ally, supports its Arab Gulf allies in their tough stance against Iran’s role in the region. Amman is concerned about the expanding influence of Tehran-backed militias in southern Syria, diplomats say.

Separately, Israel reopened the Quneitra crossing on its occupied Golan Heights front with Syria on Monday. The Israeli military said only U.N. peacekeepers would be allowed across for now.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Before Syria’s civil war, which began more than seven years ago, Quneitra saw some traffic of Druze Arabs who live on both sides of the armistice line.

Syrian government and allied forces took back that part of southern Syria from rebels in July. Syrian news agency SANA said the crossing had been closed for five years.

Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Jaber; writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem.; Editing by Robin Pomeroy