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The Syrian government has signed an exploration and drilling contract with Russia’s Soyuzneftegaz  for offshore oil and gas in Syrian waters.

Reports say the deal  has a 25 year range and costs will be met by the firm.

The signing ceremony was held in Damascus, with the Russian ambassador representing Soyuzneftegaz.

Moscow has refused to back Western sanctions against the country.

“Soyuzneftegaz will start working soon after the contract is signed. The company will not follow the unfair economic sanctions imposed on oil fields especially, as well as on all economic sectors in Syria,” said Syria’s Oil Minister Suleiman al-Abbas.

Syria has lost massive amounts of oil production due to conflict between government forces and armed rebels, resulting in the destruction of pipelines.

The exploration, which will be carried out in several phases, will cover 2,190 km/sq in the Mediterranean Sea off Syria’s coast.

If commercially viable reserves are found, Soyuzneftegaz will development and manage production.