Oil tanks in Bab al-Hawa border crossing coming from Turkey to Syria
Since Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham HTS captured large parts of Idlib province and Aleppo western countryside following clashes with Ahrar al-Sham on 22 May 2017, it tried to stretch its control on all military, administrative and economical sides by forming affiliated bodies despite it doesn’t announce it.
Among the most important bodies related to HTS is “Salvation Government” which was formed after the first meeting of the General Founding Conference, in addition to the Salvation Government HTS also formed “Displaced Administrative Office” to manage IDP camps and displaced civilians and “Watad Company” which controls petrol and gas market in north Syria.
NSO reporters faced huge difficulties in gathering information on “Watad” and how it is managed because of the reservation of workers and employees who fear detention or harm by the company’s military force.
European petrol in north Syria
In early 2018, “Watad Company” started as an independent company specialize in importing oil from Turkey and sell it in some Idlib cities such as Maretmisrin and Harem in addition to HTS-held areas in Aleppo western countryside.
Watad imports Ukrainian oil through Turkish companies via Bab al-Hawa border crossing, Turkish companies buy Ukrainian oil then sell it to Watad who is the only company importing oil from Turkey because HTS and its affiliated Salvation Government don’t give license to other companies, HTS also reduced taxes on diesel imported by Watad to 3$ per ton while every oil tank capacity is around 25 ton.
One of oil traders in the areas told NSO that HTS contributed in forming “Watad” to monopoly the petrol market in north Syria after HTS captured border crossings with Turkey and the crossing with Assad regime in Mourek to control all oil trade in the area.
The trader said since 7 February “Watad” imported diesel daily from Idlib countryside while Efrin road was cut due to Olive Branch operation then started importing gas in mid-March when regime banned it in Mourek crossing in north Hama.
On his side, an oil tank driver told NSO that a Turkish company he didn’t name imports oil to Watad through Bab al-Hawa passing by Turkish customs, Watad receives the diesel at the border crossing with oil tanks and moved to HTS area inside the border crossing where Watad pays it 400$ for each oil tank.
When Watad started importing Ukrainian oil, it opened a market for oil in east Sarmada near Bab al-Hawa, dozens of oil tanks and cars head to the market from Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces to buy diesel and benzene to sell it in other areas especially because there is no other source for oil.
According to information gathered by NSO “Watad” consists of 4 divisions connected to each other. The first division imports oil and sell while the second one buys crude oil and refine it in the company’s refineries in Idlib countryside while the third division manages the 3 gas markets in Aleppo countryside, Idlib city and Idlib southern countryside and its main duty is to receive gas and distribute it to the markets, the fourth division is responsible for a chain of small markets formed by the company to ensure the oil reach all rebels-held areas in north Syria.
This is how gas enter HTS-held areas
In addition to importing oil, Watad imported cooking gas to north Syria through Bab al-Hawa border crossing in March 18 after more than 1 month of gas shortage when Assad regime banned gas supplies to rebels-held areas through Mourek crossing in north Hama, the price for gas cylinder is 6500 SYP and reduced to 5500 SYP lately after it was sold for 16k SYP before Watad imported gas according to Khaled Abo Malek an owner of oil tank.
“Abu Malek” told NSO that one of officials in “Watad” told them that distributing gas will be in HTS-held areas only because they can’t control the prices outside these areas during the clashes between HTS and Jabhet Tahrir Syria as locals in Idlib southern countryside and al-Ghab Plain suffered from shortage of gas and the cylinder was sold for 25k SYP.
The company distributed gas cylinders to HTS fighters in many cities like idlib and Kafranbel while thousands of civilians suffered from gas shortage, a source in Termanin town in north Idlib said the company sent 17 gas cylinders to the town despite that 3500 civilians signed up at the Local Council to get cylinders.
Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham and Watad monopoly petrol
Since Watad started importing diesel and benzene from Turkey it banned selling it to traders under the pretext of using it for the armed groups according to what a diesel trader told NSO, he added that the company was selling a small part of oil in markets while selling the biggest part in black market for double price.
Local activist Ayham al-Abdullah told NSO that Watad sent small quantities of diesel to oil stations in Idlib countryside, it allowed 15liter only for 1 car while sold 1 liter for 700SYP around 1.60$ and gained huge profit.
Other local activists said HTS and Salvation Government banned all other oil trading companies to monopoly oil trade and control the market.
This monopoly by Watad led to big crisis in north Syria especially in Idlib province as the diesel liter was sold in January for 200SYP but prices went up since February and reach 700 YSP before it went down to 350-370SYP(around 0.80$) after Efrin road was opened.
This price hike before opening Efrin road affected civilians who lives depend on petrol in addition to effects on hospitals, bakeries and factories such as the bakery in Haas town was shut down due to the price hike in addition to other cement and tiles factories in Haas and Kafrome towns causing workers to lose their jobs.
One of diesel distributers told NSO that after Efrin road was opened and oil tanks arrived from Azaz city, Watad Company lost its monopoly on the market and its prices became higher than oil coming from Azaz. Watad was selling 1 ton of diesel for 71500 SYP around 160$ while it was sold in the markets for 56k SYP but Watad kept its full control on benzene because regime still bans it from Mourek crossing.
After Watad lost control over diesel trade, it stopped selling benzene to traders unless they meet its conditions by buying 2 gallons of diesel with each 1 gallon of benzene to sell the diesel in high price.
Watad, Salvation Government and Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham; a close connection despite repeated denial
Despite that Watad publicly refuse to be considered related to HTS or the Salvation Government who keeps denying connection to HTS but all petrol traders, locals and activists told NSO that these three bodies are clearly working together.
One oil trader told NSO that Watad is connected to HTS in secret or in public, adding that all companies or institutions in opposition-held areas in north Syria can’t work if it didn’t pay fees to HTS or be owned by people affiliated to HTS and provide security to it.
Regarding Salvation Government, local activist Ayham al-Abdullah told NSO that the media officer of Watad Company asks every media activist who writes about the company to write a thank to Salvation Government for allowing the company to import oil from Bab al-Hawa with small taxes.