CAIRO, EGYPT - Long gasoline lines have many ordinary Syrians fuming, adding a fresh layer of hardship to lives that are already fraught with suffering. Syria's oil minister blames U.S. sanctions for the fuel shortages, but some analysts point to poor infrastructure maintenance.
The Syrian government has temporarily closed its main Banyas oil refinery, as repair work continues to get the decades-old facility running. Video of the refinery on Syrian TV shows rusty and broken pipes and pumps that are gummed up with years of sludge.
Amateur video broadcast by Arab media that shows endless lines of cars, snaking behind gasoline stations, are a main topic of discussion on social media. One photo shows drivers playing a game of poker on the roof of a car as they wait for fuel.
Drivers in Aleppo bitter
A man says that he's been waiting in line in his car for four days, now, since Friday. Another driver adds that some days there is fuel and other days there isn't any.
Syria's Oil Minister Bassam Touma told state TV that U.S. economic sanctions are the main cause of the gasoline shortages and that the government is doing its best to ration the available supply to avoid running out completely.
He says that we are facing an oil shortage because the U.S. has prevented oil from getting to us, so we've had to cut distribution by 30 to 35 percent in order to avoid running out at some point in the future. We hope that citizens understand this. It pains me to see this, but what other choice do we have?
The Syrian government news agency SANA said over the weekend that the U.S. has diverted oil supplies that it controls in eastern Syria to neighboring Iraq. Other reports say that the U.S.’s Kurdish SDF allies have also been selling oil to the Syrian government.
Dr. Paul Sullivan, who is a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, tells VOA that he questions the veracity of Syrian government claims and blames incompetence for the shortages.
"The (Bashar al-Assad) regime," he argues, "is looking for excuses to hide its incompetence." Given all the lies told by the Assad regime over the years," he says, "why would anyone believe their propaganda arm?"