The Syrian government has signed a major oil and gas exploration deal with a Russian company in Damascus which
will allow for exploration in a section of Syrian waters, according to reporters.

The agreement was signed by Syrian Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas, who is also the head of Syria's General Petroleum Company, and the Russian company Soyuzneftegaz.

The deal, which permits the exploration of an area of 2,190 square kilometres (850 square miles) in the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast, has raised suspicions over Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been blamed for committing many atrocities against civilians during the country's more than two-year long uprising.

The contract "is the first ever for oil and gas exploration in Syria's waters,"Abbas told the AFP news agency.

"It will be financed by Russia, and should oil and gas be discovered in commercial quantities, Moscow will recover the exploration costs," Abbas added.

He also said during the signing ceremony that the contract covers "25 years, over several phases," adding that: "The cost of exploration and discovery is $100 million."

Source: Agencies