Lebanon’s worsening fuel crisis spurs violence, leaves three dead

Lebanon has faced months of severe shortages that have prompted long lines at petrol stations and violent conflicts between people desperate for fuel.

Long lines at petrol stations have become a fact of life for people in Lebanon, with disagreements over fuel erupting between frustrated motorists [File: Hassan Ammar/AP Photo]

Tensions over scarce fuel supplies in Lebanon descended into deadly violence involving guns, knives and a hand grenade on Monday, leaving three men dead, the country’s news agency reported.

Lebanon has faced months of severe fuel shortages that have prompted long lines at petrol stations and plunged the small country — dependent on private generators for power — into long hours of darkness.

The shortages are blamed on smuggling, hoarding and the cash-strapped government’s inability to secure deliveries of imported fuel. The crisis worsened when the government reduced subsidies on fuel amid a deepening financial crisis unfolding since 2019.

The Lebanese currency has plummeted, and it now sells at 20,000 Lebanese pounds to the United States dollar on the black market while the official rate is fixed at 1,500 pounds for $1. The price of a gallon of fuel has increased by more than 220 percent in the last year, triggering panic and a thriving black market.

The fuel crisis has turned violent before, with motorists clashing at petrol stations after long waits and fuel running out. But Monday’s deaths reflect growing frustration over a continued problem that has only gotten worse.

Lebanon’s National News Agency said that in one incident, a gunfight erupted over a fuel-sale deal, apparently following a disagreement — and the encounter left two men dead.

The violence started in the area of Badawi and extended to Bab al-Tibenneh in the northern city of Tripoli, it reported. Details of the disagreement were not immediately clear, but the agency said the men exchanged fire and at one point, a hand grenade was thrown.

Troops fanned out, deploying around the local hospital. There was heavy gunfire in the air during the men’s funeral. The person responsible for their killing handed himself in, local media reported.

The other clash started with a fistfight at a petrol station in Bakhoun, a village in the northern Dinniyeh region. A man was shot in the melee; he was taken to a hospital in the nearby town of Zgharta where he died of his wounds, the agency said. The shooter turned himself in to the authorities.

“The situation is very hard, and we can’t handle it much longer,” Fadi Abu Shakra, a spokesman for fuel distributors, told Al Jadeed TV, a local station.

Lebanon’s national electricity company, which is dependent on imported fuel, has expanded a rolling blackout system so that it now delivers only about one hour of electricity per day to homes and businesses.

This prompted private generator operators to turn off their engines to ration the consumption of fuel, plunging entire areas into hours-long darkness. Hospitals have warned that they have been unable to secure diesel, threatening the already struggling health sector with shutdowns of medical facilities.

Source: AP