Bashar al-Assad. Picture: EPA/SANA
Bashar al-Assad. Picture: EPA/SANA

Damascus — President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was suffering an “economic siege” as his  government faces a raft of international sanctions over the eight-year civil war.

“The war on Syria has taken on a new form that is basically siege and economic war,” he said, according to a statement released by the presidency. “International political tools have changed,” he said, as he met Chinese assistant foreign minister Chen Xiaodong in Damascus.

Instead of dialogue, foreign powers have adopted “a different approach consisting of boycott, ambassador withdrawal, economic siege and the use of terrorism”, he said. The president describes both rebels and jihadists as “terrorists”.

The US and the EU have slapped a series of sanctions on Syrian officials since the war started in 2011. Many foreign nations closed their embassies in Damascus while others scaled down their representation. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011.

Energy shortages

As the war enters its ninth year this month, the country is gripped by a fuel crisis, with price hikes and long queues for cooking gas. The US has moved to stem petroleum shipping to Syria, and major oil and gas fields remain out of the government's control in the northeast of the country.

Syria's conflict has killed 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the repression of anti-government protests. But the war is also estimated to have set Syria's economy back by three decades, destroying infrastructure and paralysing the production of electricity and oil.

After a series of victories against rebels and jihadists since a Russia military intervention in 2015, the government now controls almost two-thirds of Syria.

It also appears to be making a timid comeback on the regional stage. In December, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir made the first visit by any Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain reopened their embassies in Damascus. Countries including Lebanon and Tunisia have called for it to be readmitted to the Arab League.