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Lebanon: Iran fuel cargo to be delivered by truck via Syria, say sources

Confusion over ship's position remain after initial reports claiming the first Iranian fuel tanker could arrive at the Suez Canal by weekend
A traffic jam caused by cars lining up for fuel is seen in Damour, Lebanon on 21 August 2021, as the country struggles with a crippling economic crisis (Reuters)

The first Iranian fuel oil shipment secured through Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement will reportedly be delivered via Syria by truck to avoid complications related to sanctions, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.

The shipment would arrive at a Syrian port and then be trucked to Lebanon, with the first priority being to deliver fuel oil to hospitals for power generation, the sources told Reuters.

"Choosing to receive the vessel via Syria is not related to any fear of targeting by Israel or the US, but is due to internal considerations related to not wanting to implicate any allies," said one source.

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A report in Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar on Thursday said the vessel had entered Syrian waters, but tracking service TankerTrackers.com has disputed the claim.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah announced last month that a shipment of Iranian fuel oil was on its way to help ease crippling shortages in Lebanon, and has subsequently announced two more shipments.

The first shipment has yet to arrive, and Hezbollah has not announced details of where it will dock.

Lebanon's caretaker energy minister has said his government did not receive any requests for import permits for Iranian fuel.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah and one of the most powerful figures in the state, has said he welcomed any support, including from Iran, to help Lebanon get through its crisis.

But Hezbollah's opponents say the decision has further undermined the authority of the state and exposed Lebanon to the risk of US sanctions.

Nasrallah has said that US sanctions on Syria have already been a major cause of Lebanon's economic collapse.

Conflicting reports

On Friday, TankerTrackers - which has been sharing regular updates on social media about the fuel shipment status - posted a tweet saying the first tanker had been delayed.

“The first tanker (carrying fuel for the electric power grid) is now delayed. We spotted her on satellite imagery and shared it with our clients," the site wrote. “Second tanker has departed Iran.”

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It was following up on the status of the third tanker, the tracking service said.

A day earlier, TankerTracker said it had estimated that the first tanker could arrive at the Suez Canal by the weekend.

“We shall publicly announce the names of the 3 tankers once/if they traverse the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea,” it added.

Lebanon’s economic collapse since late 2019 has stripped the national currency of most of its value and left four out of five inhabitants below the poverty line.

The crisis deepened when the central bank started removing subsidies in order to shore up its dwindling foreign currency reserves, making the cost of fuel imports more expensive and leading to wide-ranging shortages, with power cuts lasting up to 22 hours a day and fuel for private generators increasingly scarce.

Many hospitals have been forced to scale back operations because of the shortages.

Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that it had allocated $10m to help the cash-strapped nation to buy vital fuel to power hospitals and water stations.

Meanwhile, millions of litres of gasoline and diesel fuel have been stashed by importers and distributors right under the noses of the country's army and police.

Lebanon's security services have been raiding fuel stockpilers across the country. In most of their raids, the security forces have discovered thousands of litres of fuel in plastic containers, tanks, or underground.

But last week they raided a warehouse in the eastern city of Zahle, and discovered almost two million litres of stashed fuel.