The Lebanese are eagerly awaiting a solution to the country’s electricity crisis, as they await some relief from their endless ordeal with promises of arrival of trucks of Iranian and by possible imports of electricity from Jordan and Egypt through Syria.
While Beirut sent a government delegation of the highest level to Damascus, questions remain about Washington’s position on Iranian oil trucks arriving in Lebanon via Syria, based on a request from Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Well-informed Lebanese political sources ruled out that Washington would stand in the way of fuel supplies to Lebanon. It is expected that the US would allow the passage of a few trucks for humanitarian reasons but would not allow the matter to go on indefinitely.
US Senator Chris Murphy had said in Beirut this week that fuel transits through Syria are potentially subject to congressionally mandated sanctions but that they are working through “whether or not we can help facilitate that transit without applying US sanctions.”
“My hope is that we could find a way to get this done that would not involve any U.S. sanctions,” Murphy said, adding that this is only one of many ways “we are working hard to try to find a solution to the fuel crisis.”
Hezbollah’s opponents have warned of dire consequences from Iranian fuel shipments, saying they risk triggering sanctions against a country whose economy has been in collapse for nearly two years.
Sources said that the shipments will arrive in Syria and then will be trucked to Lebanon, with the first priority being to deliver fuel to hospitals to generate electricity.
A delegation from Lebanon’s caretaker government will visit Syria on Saturday in the highest level visit in years, aiming to pave the way for a US-backed plan to ease a power crisis in Lebanon by receiving electricity via the Syrian grid.
The delegation, to be led by the deputy prime minister and defence minister, Zeina Akar, will discuss the plan by which Egyptian gas will be used to generate electricity in Jordan that will then be transmitted via Syria, a Lebanese official said.
A Syrian government statement said Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad would receive the Lebanese delegation including the ministers of finance and energy at the border on Saturday.
The United States has said it is in talks with Egypt, Jordan and the World Bank to help find solutions to Lebanon’s energy crisis. The Lebanese presidency said last month Washington had decided to help through this plan.
US sanctions on Damascus are a complicating factor in any effort to help Lebanon via Syria, an issue discussed by US senators who visited Lebanon this week.
The US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea has said there is a will to make the plan happen.
US sanctions on Syria include the Caesar Act, which Washington applied last year and which can freeze assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality. They aim to force President Bashar al-Assad to stop the war and agree to a political solution.
Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar said that his government had not received any requests for permits to import Iranian fuel.
Lebanon has been negotiating for more than a year with Cairo to import energy and gas through Jordan and Syria, but US sanctions on Syria have always constituted an obstacle to the agreement.
In the wake of an economic collapse that the World Bank has described as being among the worst in the world since 1850, Lebanon has faced a worsening fuel crisis, which has largely impacted various sectors, including hospitals, bakeries and communications.
As a result, the ability of the Electricité du Liban to provide reasonable supplies to the population has declined, which led to an increase in rationing hours to exceed 22 hours per day. Private generators are no longer able to provide the diesel needed to cover the hours of power outages.
Many Lebanese accuse Hezbollah of facilitating the smuggling of fuel to Syria, and consider this to be among the causes of the country’s fuel crisis.
During the past three days, the Lebanese army arrested six nationals and three Syrians in eastern and northern Lebanon, who were preparing to smuggle fuel to Syria, according to a statement issued by the Lebanese Army Command.
Army units seized “five cars, a pickup and a van loaded with a quantity of fuel intended to be smuggled out of Lebanese territory, estimated at 7,500 litres of gasoline, in addition to a quantity of smoke and foodstuffs.”
The seizures were handed over, according to the statement, “and an investigation was launched with the detainees under the supervision of the competent judiciary.”
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