An Iranian tanker has been spotted emptying fuel in Syria's Baniyas port, destined for neighbouring Lebanon, oil shipment tracking service TankerTrackers.com said on Tuesday.
"Unable to deliver directly by sea to Lebanon because of sanctions, the vessel went instead to Baniyas, Syria, for land transfer," the firm said on Twitter, referring to US economic sanctions on the government in Tehran.
Syria is also under US sanctions, so has nothing to lose from receiving the fuel.
The Iranian ship, the Faxon, is carrying an estimated cargo of 33,000 metric tonnes of gasoil, a light fuel oil used specifically in generators. Lebanon uses gasoil mostly for private generators run by a highly organised decade-old network of owners across the country.
The state-owned power company is generating only minimal electricity, leaving businesses and households almost entirely dependent on small, private generators.
The Faxon’s load is equivalent to about three days of the country’s needs, Lebanese fuel importers and private generator owners told The National last week. TankerTrackers.com believes 1,310 lorries will be needed to transport the cargo, equivalent to 40 million litres of gasoil, from Syria to Lebanon.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanese armed militia Hezbollah, said on Monday a first ship carrying Iranian fuel oil to help Lebanon through its financial crisis had docked in Syria on Sunday and the shipment should reach Lebanon by Thursday.
He 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 petrol and diesel, also due.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported on Tuesday that Hezbollah, which also operates as a political party nationally, had prepared thousands of banners and music to receive the convoy of vehicles that will transport the gasoil from Baniyas to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, a party stronghold. The news agency said that 70 to 80 lorries would be driving three million litres of gasoil in a 3 kilometre-long convoy.
Iran-backed Hezbollah, which bypassed the government to organise the fuel imports, has prepared two ceremonies to receive the convoy, the first between the towns of Al Ain and Nabi Othman in the north of the Bekaa region, and the second at the entrance of Baalbek, in a locality known as Douar Al Jalabi. Politicians, legislators, mayors and religious figures are expected to attend the festivities, according to the news agency.
Mr Nasrallah said the fuel would be stocked and distributed by the Al Amana fuel distribution company, which is placed under US sanctions. He said it would be distributed for a month free of charge across Lebanon to hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, state-run water companies, municipalities, the civil defence and the Lebanese Red Cross.
According to Mr Nasrallah, the fuel will also be sold at a lower price than its cost to private hospitals and health centres, medical laboratories, mills, bakeries and supermarkets, among others.
A financial crisis has wiped 90 per cent off the value of the Lebanese lira since 2019, pushed food prices up by more than 550 per cent and propelled three quarters of the population into poverty. The World Bank has called it one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
Analysts previously told The National that the Iranian fuel imports are a political message from Hezbollah to consolidate its power among its constituency in Lebanon. It remains unclear whether government institutions will run the risk of buying fuel, which is supplied defying US sanctions.