Syria and Iran reached an agreement to launch a joint free trade zone and bank, the Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Qasemi announced this weekend.
The announcement concluded an Iranian commercial delegation's visit - headed by Qasemi on Wednesday - to Damascus and seen as part of Iran's efforts to deepen its economic influence in Syria.
Iranian top officials met senior Syrian officials including President Bashar al-Assad, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, and Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammad Samer Al-Khalil.
"A joint bank is scheduled to be established in Syria. Iranian and Syrian banks should have branches in both countries," Qasemi told Iranian and Syrian media.
On 13 January, the head of the Syrian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce Kiwan Kashfi announced that Iranian exports to Syria increased by 90 percent from March to the end of 2021, amounting to $160 million over this period.
Iran's influence in Syria grew to unprecedented levels after the 2011 Syrian revolution. The Syrian regime's brutal repression of protests pushed most Arab and foreign countries to cut ties with the Assad regime.
Iran continued to back Assad throughout the ten-year war, which has killed over 500,000 civilians, supplying militias, weapons, and various forms of economic support to the regime, including oil.
Iran also established universities and companies inside Syria to boost exchanges and trade between the two countries, which remain isolated by most Western powers and are targeted by extensive international sanctions.
In December, Syrian and Iranian authorities inaugurated an "Iranian Trade Center" in Damascus, which gathers several Iranian companies.
Earlier this month, Iran also resumed religious pilgrim trips to Syria, enabling Iranian nationals to visit Muslim Shia shrines in Damascus.
The New Arab