Syria said on Sunday it would import more crude oil to cover fuel shortages and blamed U.S. sanctions for disrupting regular Iranian oil shipments that had for years compensated for the country's loss of domestic oil production as a result of conflict.
The sanction-hit country has faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages over the past year, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.
Prime Minister Hussein Arnous did not specify how Syria would secure extra supplies but said they had already imported 1.2 million tonnes of Iranian crude oil that cost, along with petroleum products in the last six months, around $820 million.
The shortages worsened since seven oil tankers on their way to Syria were intercepted in "terrorist attacks" with two of the vessels delayed for over a month in the Red Sea before loading, Arnous was quoted as saying on state media without elaborating.
The fuel shortages come at a time when the country is in the throes of an economic crisis, amid a collapsing currency and inflation skyrocketing, aggravating hardships for ordinary Syrians battered by years of war.
Arnous said Syrian now produced only 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) with around 400,000 bpd lost from oil fields in northeastern Syria now under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces spearheaded by the Kurdish Syrian YPG militia.
"We have become dependant on imported oil and we have used up foreign currency in large amounts to pay for petroleum products," Arnous told deputies in a speech to Parliament.
Damascus blames Washington for the country's dependence on imports.
Last September, Syria's minister Bassam Touma complained to state television that the Caesar Act – the toughest U.S. sanctions which came into force in June 2019 prohibiting foreign companies to trade with Damascus – had also disrupted several imported shipments from undisclosed suppliers.
Oil production collapsed after Damascus lost most of its oil producing fields in a stretch east of the Euphrates River in Deir al-Zor. These oil fields are now in the hands of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds who continue to sell part of the oil to Damascus.
Syria has in recent years grown more dependent on Iranian oil shipments, but tightening sanctions on Iran, while Syria and their allies – and a foreign currency crunch – has made it more difficult to get enough supplies in the past year, industry experts say.
The country's ability to finance imports has also been curtailed by a financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon where billions of dollars held by Syrian businessmen were frozen by its hard-hit banks, businessmen and bankers say.