Lebanon fuel shortages spark long queues and fights at the pump

Motorists face a three-hour wait with no guarantee of fuel

Gas shortage in Lebanon fuelling unrest

Gas shortage in Lebanon fuelling unrest
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For some, the search for fuel is just another headache in crisis-riddled Lebanon. For others, it will determine whether or not they are paid.

Scuffles broke out at petrol stations across the country on Friday, as the country’s fuel crisis worsened.

With the cash-strapped government unable to release dollars to fund imports of oil and other fuel, power cuts have become increasingly common. Now petrol is in short supply.

On almost every corner of Beirut, snaking lines of cars – often several kilometres long – waited for tankers to bring fuel to petrol stations. The long queues blocked roads, causing traffic to back up even more.

By early afternoon, petrol stations ran out of fuel and the queues dissipated, as motorists searched elsewhere.

Motorists in Beirut told The National that they had been sitting in queues for more than three hours, with no guarantee that the pumps would still being open when they reached the front.

Those who did make it to a working pump faced 10-litre limits.

One taxi driver said he had taken to waking up at 5am every morning in a bid to be first in line – but in spite of his efforts was still having to wait at least an hour behind other cars.

Randa Khoury, 52, said she had been forced to take a day off work to find fuel.

“I knew since yesterday I would have to spend the whole day searching for petrol. My car is not a luxury; it is critical to my work, and the worst part is I know I am going to have to repeat this next week.

“What happens when I can’t find one in time and I run out of petrol? I’ll have to take a taxi. But what happens when the taxis run out of petrol? What about the people who can’t afford to take taxis?”

For Georges, an Uber driver, who did not want to give his last name, boredom in the queue slowly turned into panic.

“I’m an engineer by training. For the past two years, I’ve driven a taxi. If I don’t get petrol today, I won't earn anything, then my child will go hungry. This is every day in Lebanon. It is stressful.

“My rule is, get up early, get fuel and then figure out the rest of your life.”

But some motorists are more than fed up. Disputes at petrol stations are nothing new in Lebanon but never have things seemed quite this bad.

In a video posted to Twitter, a man in the Qasqas neighbourhood of Beirut can be seen drawing a weapon and firing several shots in a dispute at the pump. Security forces were also seen managing queues at another station in the capital, in a bid to prevent conflict.

Elsewhere, angry motorists joined protesters in blocking main roads, setting fire to bins and temporarily disrupting traffic at several choke points across the city – including the busy Cola junction.

George Brax, a representative for the petrol station owners syndicate, told the media that the crisis was “humiliating citizens and gas station owners”.

“Halting imports all of a sudden and leaving the country without fuel is a criminal and destructive act.”

Mr Brax added that an electricity-generating ship which could meet part of the country’s power demands had arrived, but the Bank de Liban had yet to make the money available to pay for it, leaving it unused.

The rush on the petrol stations came just a few days after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said his group would turn to Iran to buy oil if the government did not find a means to address the crisis.

To compound matters, Friday also saw the start of a pharmacists' strike across Lebanon as the sector battles similar shortages.

Nine in 10 pharmacies closed in protest over the economic crisis.