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2012-12-28 08:46

HOW'D YA LIKE THESE GUYS ON YOUR CAR LOT? Abu Tareq (centre), captain of the Syrian rebel Al-Faruq brigade, checks a second-hand car in the northern Syrian town of Azaz on Christmas Day 2012. A used BMW or Mercedes for $4000 to $6000 is cheap

AAZAZ, Syria - Endless supplies of cigarettes, a used BMW or Mercedes for R35 000 to R50 000 - but fuel at vastly inflated prices. That's the black market on the road across the Syrian-Turkish border.

"It is all legal," insists Abu Ahmad, once a grocer in Syria's war-ravaged city of Aleppo who is now dealing in motor vehicles in the rebel-held town of Aazaz, near the frontier. "They come from Switzerland, where my brother is a second-hand car-dealer."

REBELS THE BUYERS

It's all legal, Ahmad says. They apparently come in with shipments of blankets, food and medicine for Syrians who have taken refuge from that country's civil war in camps along the Turkish border.

Abu Mohammad Faid, who turns up at Abu Ahmad's car lot with two cousins, opts for an immaculate black BMW. "Before the war, the only cars we could buy were those made in China, Russia or Korea," he said, "but in peacetime a car such as this would cost (the equivalent of) about R130 000 and on top of that we had to pay taxes."

Rebels of the Free Syrian Army also count among Abu Ahmad's customers. Abu Tareq, captain of the FSA's Al-Faruq brigade, says he chose "three vehicles to transport our fighters between Idlib and Aleppo (provinces)". (Now you know where all those Toyotas come from in war zones, perhaps? - Editor)

Business, however, is far from brisk, admits Abu Ahmad. "Few people come to buy cars. Many do not even have money for food," he says. "Mostly we sell the cars to the rebels - and we have to offer them at a special price, otherwise we will have to give the vehicles to them."

R45 000 KILLED

Business is distinctly better for Abu Ismail and his brother Hamid, who have set up a fuel depot in an abandoned building. "We get diesel and petrol on the black market at Hama and Arraka where there is no shortage," they say, referring to areas under the control the Syrian army.

"The smugglers buy it from the regime and we sell it at a much higher price."

The conflict, in which an estimated 45 000 people have been killed, has also sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into neighbouring countries, and has substantially affected the cost of living in rebel-held areas.

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