Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, has said that the first ship carrying Iranian fuel oil to help Lebanon through its financial crisis had docked in Syria.
Nasrallah had announced last month that he had organised purchases of fuel from Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer but subject to US economic sanctions, to ease a crippling shortage.
Nasrallah thanked Syria for receiving the shipment on Sunday and facilitating its transfer, and said it would reach Lebanon by Thursday.
“We were told that the arrival of the vessel here (in Lebanon) would harm the country and we don’t want to harm the country so we went for another option,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Monday.
The arrival of the Iranian tanker comes days after a new government was formed in Lebanon, ending a 13-month deadlock. Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not commented on the deal to import fuel from Iran.
Daily life has been almost paralysed as fuel dries up because Lebanon lacks the dollars to pay for it.
The state-owned power company is generating only minimal electricity, leaving businesses and households almost entirely dependent on small, private generators that run on fuel oil.
A financial crisis has wiped 90 percent off the value of the Lebanese pound since 2019, pushed food prices up by more than 550 percent, and propelled three-quarters of the population into poverty. The World Bank has called it one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
Nasrallah on Monday said a second ship with fuel oil would arrive in the Syrian port of Baniyas in a few days, with a third and fourth, respectively carrying gasoline and fuel oil, also due.
“We could have got a whole fleet of vessels … but we didn’t because we don’t want to aggravate anyone,” he said.
Syria, also under US sanctions, has been mostly relying on oil supplies from its strong ally Iran, which sent thousands of fighters, including Hezbollah members, to back President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the 10-year conflict there.
Nasrallah said the Syrian government has mobilised dozens of tanker trucks to transport the diesel to the eastern Lebanese town of Baalbek by Thursday.
‘Not for profit or trade’
Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon say the purchase risks bringing down sanctions on a country already mired in crisis, especially as Washington has designated Hezbollah as a “terrorist group”.
The Donald Trump administration announced in 2018 that it aimed to reduce Iran’s oil sales to zero after withdrawing from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six global powers.
For its part, the United States is backing an effort to address Lebanon’s power shortages by bringing in Egyptian gas via Jordan and Syria.
Nasrallah also praised a trip by Lebanese officials to Damascus this month to try to bring that about.
He said the first Iranian fuel oil shipment was priced in Lebanese pounds and would go to hospitals, orphanages and old people’s homes, and that Hezbollah will be supplying gas stations linked to the group around the country.
“Our aim is not trade or profit,” he said. “Our aim is to alleviate the suffering of the people.”
“We are not competing [with the state] but we want to add the flow of fuel to the market,” he added.