Trade flourishes as Syria befriends old foe Turkey

Fri Jun 4, 2010 11:20am EDT
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - Turkish delicacies are unashamedly on display in Syria's culinary capital. Aleppo merchants are switching to imports from Turkey, and buses ferry shoppers to an upscale mall across the border.

A warming of once-chilly Turkish-Syrian ties has unleashed a one-way trade boom. A trade deal activated two years ago has cut tariffs and reduced smuggling. Visa requirements were abolished.

Turkey's popularity in Syria soared after an Israeli raid on Gaza-bound aid ships in which nine Turks were killed on May 31.

"Turkey now has a stake in the Palestinian cause, and Syria stands to gain," a diplomat said. "It will be more difficult for Israel to launch any military action against Syria."

The furor over the flotilla interception has also deflected attention from Israeli and U.S. pressure on Damascus over its alleged arms supplies to the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group.

Syrians have traditionally looked askance at their powerful northern neighbor, which ruled them during the Ottoman Empire, but many are now seeing secular Muslim Turkey, a NATO member with an Islamist-leaning government, in a new light.

"It's time to shed the stigma we have had about Turkey. They're no longer Ottoman, but a development model for the Arab East," said Abdelqader al-Deiri, a Syrian businessman who now buys restaurant equipment from Turkey instead of Europe.

"Transport costs are lower, but Turkish goods do not compete on price alone. They make high quality," added Deiri, who often vacations in Turkey. His eight-year-old son is learning Turkish.   Continued...

<p>Palestinians refugees living in Syria take part in a rally against Israel as they hold a poster of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, at al-Yarmouk camp near Damascus, June 4, 2010. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri</p>