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Global Times

Syrian island escapes war, but caught by tough economic situation

Global Times

Source: Xinhua Published: 2020/9/24 11:03:08

During the more than nine-year-long war in Syria, actual battles have engulfed the country except for a small island that has escaped unscathed, protected by the surrounding sea.

The people on Arwad Island, which is only 3 km off the coast of the Syrian city of Tartous, have never heard bombings nor run for cover in fear of blind mortar shells.

The sea has distanced the island away from the ugly and tough details of the war as its buildings remain intact with no bullet holes.

Most importantly, the children there have enjoyed a normal childhood as they did not have to stay indoors. It was safe to play outside.

Arwad, which was settled in the early second millennium BC by the Phoenicians, is a tourist attraction where people rely on fishing and tourism as well as boat-making to make a living.

The people in Arwad move in and out of the island to the coast of Tartous via boats. They bring vegetables, foods, and all other life necessities via boats.

However, life there is not always a bed of roses.

Getting on one of the boats, Xinhua reporters headed toward the island looming on the horizon from the coast of Tartous.

It took about 15 minutes to the island, which welcomes the arrival through a gate-like gulf area where boats stop and wait to refill again.

On the island, people were walking down narrow alleys, some buying vegetables and others waiting for boats to Tartous.

Fishermen were also seen on rocks in certain areas on the shore trying to get a big catch to return to the market and sell it.

The island streets were bustling even though people do not have cars there. They move on motorcycles and bicycles.

Restaurants on the beach were almost empty as no tourists are going there nowadays.

It was also notable that while people in other Syrian cities were wearing masks, people on the island have not adopted such a habit.

Most of the gift shops are close to the shore selling souvenirs from the island, mainly handmade seashell braces and necklaces.

Everything looks as normal as that in any other city, but people's faces were saying something different.

Othman Yanak, a handmade gift maker, told Xinhua that even though the island escaped the war, it was affected badly by the tough economic repercussion.

He said tourists are no longer thronging the island as they used to do due to the economic hardships, which are largely caused by the war and the Western sanctions, as well as the lack of foreign tourists.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse and frightened the tourists away from activities that involve mixing with other people.

"When tourists come to Arwad, the sailors get the benefit, as well as restaurants and grocery stores, so when we have no visitors, the entire island gets affected," Yanak said.

Khaled Abdul-Al, another shop owner in Arwad, said the fishermen on the island have been affected by the closure of restaurants during the COVID-19 curfew and restrictions and the lack of tourists as a result of the economic difficulties.

He said the prices of fish were high due to the high demand in restaurants, adding that now, even fishermen have been affected by the closure of restaurants and the low number of tourists.

The officials on the island also acknowledged the tough economic circumstances.

Nour al-Deen Salman, an official of the city council, told Xinhua the actual war did not reach the island but the economic hardship did.

He said that during the war, the island has not been affected in terms of destruction because it was far from the battlefields but it was affected economically because it is part of Syria.

He said the economic hardship is felt by all Syrians and the island is no exception.

"The economic hardship is affecting Syria including Arwad Island as we lack tourists on the island and the people are making little money as a result of the coronavirus," he said.

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