Syria - The old scene is back, Jordanians on the weekened driving their cars to Syria through Naseeb border early in the morning, returning in the afternoon with their cars fully loaded with merchindise.
It takes around one hour and thirty minutes to reach Damascus from the border. Many Jordanians follow the same route, they start with a traditional breakfast at the old neighborhoods of Damascus, then head strait to shopping in Al Hamidieh. Shopping lists goes from, cheap cotton underwear, Pijamas, clothes, meat, chocolates, detergents, traditional sweets, and fruits.
After going around the markets, Friday prayers is a must at either Sayiddah Zainab mosque, named after the grand daughter of Prophet Mohammad, which her grave is found there. Or at the Ummayad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world, built in 634, on the site of a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, who is honored as a prophet by Christians and Muslims.
The mosque is also believed by Muslims to be the place where Jesus will return at the End of Days. The grave of Saladin is also found in a small garden adjoining the north wall of the mosque.
The day in Damascus ends with a large meal at one of Damascus restearaunts, who are known for the best Fatteh and veal in the levant, before heading back to Jordan.
The head of the Nassib crossing, Colonel Mazen Ghandour, said the number of people heading into Syria is increasing daily, and that most of those coming are Jordanians.
"Most Jordanians come to shop and then go home," Col Ghandour said. "Others go to see Damascus."
A few metres away, a Syrian woman living in Jordan smiles as she waits to cross over with her family for a two-week visit.
"Damascus is a blessing... That's why everybody wants to visit after being cut off for so long," she said.
Just for breakfast
A whole economy has sprang up again since the border begun working. At the crossing itself cars sit side by side in several long queues waiting to cross over into Syria. Large trucks, some refrigerated, also wait their turn.
Before the war, “we used to come over to Syria every day — sometimes just to have breakfast”, says Mohammad Sayes, a 25-year-old from Jordan’s adjacent border town of Ramtha.
It was his second such trip since the border reopened “to see the sights, go out and eat” cheap, he says. “Yes, Syria lived through a war, but we suffered a siege,” says the specialist in tourism management.
“When the border reopened, it was like paradise opened up again.”
Fuel ‘half the price’
Also looking to cash in are Jordanian drivers, jokingly dubbed “sailors”, who ferry goods from Syria across the frontier for a small commission.
Jordanian driver Muflah Al Hurani, 53, is crossing the border to drive a family back home from the Syrian capital Damascus just over 100 kilometres to the north.
He has been going in and out of Syria on an almost daily basis since Naseeb reopened, to transport passengers or shop for relatives.
“I bring back fruit and vegetables including potatoes, onions, garlic, as well as children’s clothes made of cotton,” he says. “And I fill up my car will fuel ... It’s less than half the price (in Syria) despite the war.”
Before the conflict, the crossing was a key passage for trade, linking Syria — but also Lebanon and Turkey — with Jordan and the Gulf beyond.
Syrian officials have registered more than 33,000 arrivals since October 15, against 29,000 departures.
Among those waiting to head across the border are also Syrians returning home, car roofs piled high with suitcases and blankets.
A boost of a war-ravaged economy
Near the recently reopened border with Jordan, Baha’a Al Masri sells date-filled pastries and famous Syrian sesame biscuits to Jordanians flocking across the frontier to snap up bargains.
Syrian regime forces retook control of the Naseeb border crossing from rebels in July, and in October the borders reopened between Jordan and Syria after a three-year closure.
Just several hundred metres from the frontier, 26-year-old Al Masri counts the boxes of biscuits he still has left in a green plastic crate strapped to the back of his motorbike.
“For two weeks I have been bringing sweets from Damascus and selling them to Jordanians who come to buy them here because they’re cheaper,” says Baha’a, wearing a black jacket and woollen hat.
“I sell 27 to 30 boxes a day.” Baha’a hawks the pastries every day in a rest area on the edge of Syria’s southern province of Daraa for three Jordanian dinars each (around $4, Dh14.68).
“Thank God, when the border opened there was work again here, after I spent around six years without a job,” he tells AFP.
Because money was tight, he joined a rebel group that paid him a monthly wage to fight. “I picked up arms so we could eat and live,” he says, crates of green apples and oranges stacked behind him.
Damascus hopes the reopening of Naseeb will boost its war-ravaged economy.