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Syrian Economy Continues to Struggle as Sanctions Bite, Shortages Hit

FILE - A man sweeps the floor near bread at a bakery in Azaz, Syria, Jan. 26, 2020.

A day after a high profile visit to Syria by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss reviving the Syrian economy, Arab media is reporting that bakeries across the country are running out of flour for bread and fuel stations are running out of petrol.

As bakeries in Syria struggle to continue to produce bread to feed a hungry population, the government of President Bashar al-Assad is reportedly scrambling to keep supply chains going in the face of a major wheat shortage.

The Saudi-owned Asharqalawsat newspaper reported Tuesday that bread lines in the capital Damascus were getting longer, and residents were spending more time trying to get bread. The paper also reported a worsening fuel shortage.

Visiting Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke Monday of cooperation between Moscow and Damascus in rebuilding the country.

He said that Syria has new goals and priorities, chief of which is to rebuild its social and economic infrastructure and to bring together outside and international help to achieve those goals.

Deputy Russian Prime Minister Yuri Borisov added that Russia is helping Syria to repair its damaged power plants, but that oil production was a major problem because most oil fields are located outside of government-controlled areas.

Moscow-based political analyst Adib Sayyed told Arab media that despite Russian efforts to improve the economic situation in Syria, U.S. sanctions on the country "have seriously affected the economy."

He also said recent fires in the country have hurt wheat production and led to bread shortages.

Syria produced over 4 million tons of wheat a year before conflict broke out in 2011, of which it was able to export around a third of its crop. U.N. estimates say that Syrian wheat production for 2019 had fallen to 1.2 million tons.

The economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon is also affecting the Syrian economy. Joshua Landis, who heads the Middle East Center at the University of Oklahoma, noted in a tweet that the collapse of GDP and currency in Lebanon has impacted everyone "and that the same thing is happening in Syria, where people were already very poor."