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|15 October, 2018

Jordan and Syria reopen Nassib border crossing

The border crossing between Jordan and Syria officially opened to civilians and trade on Monday after being closed for three years.

A Jordanian policeman checks a car at Jordan's Jaber border crossing checkpoint near Syria's Nasib checkpoint, near Mafraq, Jordan, October 15, 2018.

A Jordanian policeman checks a car at Jordan's Jaber border crossing checkpoint near Syria's Nasib checkpoint, near Mafraq, Jordan, October 15, 2018.

REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

JABER, Jordan/BEIRUT- The border crossing between Jordan and Syria opened to people and goods on Monday after being closed for three years, reopening a route that used to carry billions of dollars of trade for countries across the region.

The Nassib crossing opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), a Jordanian border official said. By 1130 GMT Reuters had seen a Syrian business delegation cross into Jordan, and a couple of dozen civilians leave Jordan, but no trucks yet in either direction.

"We are fully ready to receive passengers and transport of goods," Imad Riyalat, head of the Jaber checkpoint, on the Jordanian side, told Reuters. "We expect the traffic to be slow now at the start, but in coming days we expect passenger movement to pick up."

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The Syrian government retook the area in July during a Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels from their stronghold in southwest Syria.

The crossing's closure in 2015 cut a transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Turkey and the Gulf, and Lebanon and the Gulf, in multi-billion dollar annual trade.

While the crossing was closed, Syria's only normally operating frontier crossing had been with Lebanon, which itself has no other functioning land borders.

Lebanon relies on Syria for overland connections to all other countries because its only other frontier is with Israel, with which it has no ties.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted: "Opening Nassib crossing will revive various Lebanese productive sectors and lower the cost of exporting goods from Lebanon to Arab countries."

Jordanian state news agency Petra said Syrians entering Jordan must first obtain security clearance from Jordanian authorities, as has been the case throughout the war.

"A Jordanian citizen may leave for Syria in their own car or as a regular passenger. Jordanian cargo is also allowed to leave for Syria according to the Jordanian-Syrian agreement," Petra said.

Separately, Israel reopened the Quneitra crossing on its occupied Golan Heights front with Syria on Monday. The Israeli military said that only U.N. peacekeepers would be allowed across for now.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war. Before Syria's civil war, which began more than seven years ago, Quneitra saw regular traffic of Druze Arabs who live on both sides of the armistice line.

Syrian government and allied forces took back that part of southern Syria from rebels in July. Syrian news agency SANA said the crossing had been closed for five years.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday he hoped a crossing with Iraq would open as soon as possible.

Opening the Albu Kamal crossing in eastern Syria, an area which had been occupied by rebels, then Islamic State, for years, would be in the interests of both countries, Moualem said after meeting his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus.

(Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Jaber; writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem. Editing by Robin Pomeroy) ((lisa.barrington@thomsonreuters.com; +961(0)1954456;))