Middle East

Jordan's state carrier to resume flights to Syria for first time in decade

3 minute read

Planes that belong to the Royal Jordanian Airlines and other companies are parked at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo

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AMMAN, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Jordan's state carrier, Royal Jordanian (RJAL.AM), will soon resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time in nearly a decade, in the latest step to restore extensive business ties with Syria hurt by conflict in the latter, government officials said on Tuesday.

Flights have been suspended since the start of the decade-old conflict in Syria, even though other airlines continued to fly to Amman from Damascus.

Indicating the government announcement was slightly premature, Royal Jordanian later on Tuesday said an Oct 3. date to resume flights announced by the government still awaited final approvals. The airline said it planned a shuttle service to transfer passengers from Amman to Damascus airport by land.

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The decision to resume flights was part of several taken at a two-day ministerial meeting that ended on Tuesday in Amman to boost bilateral trade, investment and transport ties.

Jordan will fully reopen its main border crossing with Syria from Wednesday after imposing pandemic-related restrictions. read more

Before the conflict in Syria, the Nasib-Jaber crossing was a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day, transporting billions of dollars of goods between Europe and Turkey and the Gulf.

Although the Jaber crossing has been open since 2018 after the Syrian government drove rebels from southern Syria, bilateral trade has yet to recover to the $1 billion pre-war level.

The kingdom hopes cross-border trade and renewed transport links will help boost its debt-ridden economy, which was hurt by a steep economic contraction last year amid the pandemic.

"This is an important step to ease flow of goods between the two countries and Lebanon and the Gulf," said Daif Allah Abu Akula, chairman of the country's customs clearance companies association.

Jordan, a staunch U.S. ally that supported mainstream rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule, has pushed for rapprochement with Damascus in recent months, officials said.

Jordanian businessmen had largely shunned dealing with Syria after the 2019 Caesar Act - the toughest U.S. sanctions yet that prohibited foreign companies trading with Damascus.

Jordanian officials say they have lobbied Washington to ease some of the tough sanctions placed on business dealings with Syria to help revive dealings with a main trading neighbour.

Jordan also said it was hopeful Washington would allow Syria to benefit from a plan to supply Egyptian gas to Lebanon via an Arab pipeline that crosses through its territory to ease a crippling power crisis.

Syria, which blames crippling Western sanctions on the plight of its economy, hopes wider business links with its southern neighbour will help it recover from the devastating impact of conflict and bring in much-needed foreign currency.

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Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum

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