Syria's Idlib adopts Turkish lira in place of plummeting pound

Idlib (Syria) (AFP) –


Local authorities in northwest Syria are replacing the plummeting Syrian pound with the Turkish lira to shield their opposition-held region from economic collapse, an official said Monday.

The Salvation Government -- an administrative body linked to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group which dominates the Idlib region -- already started paying wages and salaries in Turkish lira last month, said Bassel Abdul Aziz, who heads its economy department.

He said it has "instructed commercial traders and money exchange houses" to circulate low-denomination Turkish coins and banknotes to be used "for everyday transactions in liberated territories instead of the Syrian pound".

At a money transfer office in the province on Sunday, an AFP correspondent saw bags of Turkish lira coins on the floor alongside boxes filled with bank notes.

In a statement on Friday, the United Nations said a "large" shipment of Turkish currency had reportedly entered Idlib on June 11.

Syria's economy has been battered by nine years of war compounded by a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, which had served as a conduit to bring dollars into government-held areas.

The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted in recent days on the informal market, sending prices skyrocketing, shuttering shops and sparking rare anti-government protests in the country's regime-held south.

At one point last week, the pound sank to 3,000 to the dollar, more than four times the official rate of around 700, and 60 times its pre-2011 rate.

The spike comes ahead of the introduction of new US sanctions from June 17, and after the sudden fall from grace of tycoon and cousin of the president, Rami Makhlouf, that has left other top businessmen on edge.

"The Syrian pound will continue to circulate in liberated areas but its use will be reduced to a minimum," the local official said.

Under the new measures, the Salvation Government last week set the price for a loaf of bread at two Turkish lira (less than $1).

An AFP correspondent said that gas stations on Sunday started to list their prices in Turkish lira.

Idlib is held by jihadist and rebel groups, many of them backed by Turkey, one of the main foreign protagonists in Syria's war.

Ankara has deployed forces in several military posts it established in Idlib as part of a 2018 deal with regime ally Moscow.

Turkey also controls a stretch of territory along its border in neighbouring Aleppo province following a series of military offensives since 2016.

In these areas, the lira is already being used as the main currency instead of the Syrian pound in a sign of Ankara's growing influence.