Iran is ready to ship more fuel to Lebanon if needed

Iran official says his country could send more fuel to Lebanon after Hezbollah leader promised more vessels carrying fuel would sail soon.

Drivers wait in a long queue to get fuel at a petrol station under a billboard showing slain IRGC General Qassem Soleimani [File: Hassan Ammar/AP Photo]

Iran says it is ready to ship more fuel to Lebanon if needed, a day after the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-aligned Hezbollah group said more vessels carrying Iranian fuel would sail soon to help ease the country’s energy crisis.

Hezbollah’s foes in Lebanon have warned of dire consequences from the purchase, saying it risked sanctions being imposed on a country whose economy has been in meltdown for nearly two years.

“We sell our oil and its products based on our own decisions and the needs of our friend. Iran is ready to send fuel again to Lebanon if needed,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a news conference on Monday.

“Certainly we cannot see the suffering of the Lebanese people.”

On Sunday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the first vessel shipping Iranian fuel to Lebanon, which the group announced on last Thursday was about to leave Iran, had already sailed.

Nasrallah also dismissed as “illusions” a reported United States-backed initiative to ease Lebanon’s energy crisis. He said the first Iranian ship loaded with fuel was “at sea”.

“A second ship will set sail in the next few days, and it will be followed by others,” he said.

Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran designated as a “terrorist” group by much of the West, is a major political force in Lebanon but its leaders are under US sanctions.

“We will continue this process as long as Lebanon needs it,” Nasrallah said. “The aim is to help all Lebanese, [not just] Hezbollah supporters or the Shia.”

‘In chaos’

Last week, Iran’s semi-official Nournews website reported the fuel shipments to Lebanon were all bought by a group of Lebanese Shia businessmen.

“We announce our readiness to sell fuel to the Lebanese government in addition to the fuel purchased by the Lebanese Shia businessmen if the Lebanese government is willing,” said Khatibzadeh.

US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, reimposed in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, aim to cut its crude sales to zero.

Hezbollah, founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 1982, has also been targeted by US sanctions.

Fuel prices in Lebanon are expected to double after the country’s leaders decided on Saturday to change the exchange rate used to price petroleum products in a bid to ease crippling shortages.

Amounting to a partial reduction in fuel subsidies, the rise will mean more hardship.

The fuel crisis has left Lebanon in chaos, paralysing basic services and sparking daily melees as people scramble for fuel.

In recent days, Lebanon’s army has seized fuel from petrol stations in an effort to curb hoarding amid shortages.

Compounding the country’s crisis, a top private hospital said it may have to close because of power outages caused by shortages of diesel, warning this could cause hundreds of deaths.

Foreign currency reserves are rapidly depleting, forcing the central bank to scale down funding for imports in an effort to shore up the little money Lebanon has left.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, and 78 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies