, Syria, Oct 1 – Hisham does a brisk and lucrative business trading black market petrol to rebel-held areas of the battleground Syrian province of Aleppo, in defiance of a government ban.
Like most commodities in sanctions-hit and war-stricken Syria, the price of petrol has risen dramatically since the start of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago.
Before the uprising erupted, a litre of petrol cost 45 Syrian pounds (less than a dollar). Now it can fetch more than twice as much if one is lucky enough to find it.
In Aleppo, Syria’s economic hub, where rebels and troops have been locked in fierce fighting since mid-July, few are the petrol stations that have not been destroyed by shelling or set ablaze during clashes.
The rare stations that are open sell petrol at 100 pounds (around 1.5 dollars) a litre.
Hisham, and other blackmarketeers, buy their supplies of petrol from smugglers who come from the northeastern province of Raqa, a region mostly controlled by government troops where a litre sells for around 60 pounds.
Assisted by a young boy, Hisham, 32, keeps shop on the side of a road linking the Turkish border to Aleppo where customers will find him each day with his bottles and jerry cans.
He fills up cars using a plastic tube and a funnel covered with a piece of cloth as a filter.
“Every day I come here to fill up because I am sure that the petrol is clean,” said Hassan.
Another customer, Khaled, says he has no choice but to buy his petrol from Hisham, if he is to make a living.
Before the uprising, Khaled studied Islamic law in Egypt but back home he has been unable to find a job and so he decided to become a travelling salesman and needs to fuel his vehicle to sell vegetables around the region.
Hisham says he sells around 4,000 litres of petrol each day and that he has 60 regular customers.
As he whiles away the time, he can be found chain-smoking on the side of the road surrounded by his petrol bottles.
In the rebel-held town of Aazaz, just a few kilometres (miles) from the Turkish border, a man has placed a barrel of petrol on a cart. He says he sells 160 litres every 48 hours.
“What I earn from these sales is enough to feed me and my 10 children,” he says, declining to give his name.
Throughout the rebel-held border region, traffic is chaotic but flows unhindered despite government efforts to impose a blockade.
Syria’s crude production was once largely destined for export but US and EU sanctions adopted in August and September last year have decimated foreign sales.
Europe had previously bought 95 percent of Syrian oil, generating a third of the country’s revenues.
Pipelines serving Syria’s oilfields in the northeast have been hit by rebels during the fighting.