As Lebanon continues to face a debilitating fuel crisis, Hezbollah organised the delivery of Iranian fuel, sent via Syria, which arrived in the country on September 16. People in the streets celebrated the arrival of the convoy of fuel tankers by shooting guns and even rockets into the air. The scene shocked many Lebanese, whose memories of the devastating port explosion in August 2020 are still fresh, as our Observer explains.
The first convoy of 20 fuel tankers entered the country by way of an illegal route in Syria's Hermel region, before heading towards Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold in eastern Lebanon. Hezbollah, the pro-Iran Shi’ite political party, facilitated the delivery of a total of 80 tankers on Thursday.
The petrol delivery was carried out in spite of US-imposed oil sanctions on Iran. An Iranian ship carrying 33,000 tonnes of fuel docked in the port of Banias in Syria. The cargo was then transferred to a convoy of fuel tankers, which transported it to Hermel. The Lebanese government distanced themselves from the move, calling it a "private" initiative.
Along the route, Lebanese citizens came out to wave the Hezbollah flag and even throw rice or rose petals at the tankers as they passed.
But some people chose a riskier way of celebrating the fuel delivery, firing rocket launchers or AK-47s just a few metres away from tanker trucks, as amateur videos posted on social media show.
In this video, filmed between Hermel in Syria and Baalbek in Lebanon, a man crosses the road then fires a rocket launcher near a fuel tanker. Gunshots from an AK-47 ring out in the background.
In the video below, two men fire a rocket launcher and an AK-47 as the convoy approaches.
Another video shows a woman firing a gun as a fuel truck drives close by. A person wearing a motorbike helmet drives past her and gives her a thumbs up.
'It’s criminal stupidity'
Jalal Nanoue is an independent journalist in Beirut. He says he was shocked when he saw these videos.
The Hermel-Baalbek region that the convoy went through is a clan-based society. Traditionally, these kinds of guns move around within the clans.
I was expecting to see this kind of thing. But what shocked me the most is the fact that people were firing just metres away from fuel tankers. It’s criminal stupidity.
On Wednesday, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, announced that they would cancel festivities that Hezbollah supporters were organising in Baalbek to celebrate the fuel delivery, saying that there was a risk of a disaster happening.
Lebanese people still have the fresh memory of what happened in Akkar in northern Lebanon on August 15, when a fuel tanker exploded and there was a crowd of people nearby. At least 30 people died and dozens were injured.
And of course we can’t forget the lingering trauma after the Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020, which killed more than 200 people.
In the Beqaa region, it’s common to fire in the air, not just in celebration but also as a mark of respect when burying someone important in the community.
Dar al-Fatwa [a Sunni government institution] and Hezbollah have issued fatwas banning firing in the air. But it’s obvious that there’s still work to be done.
>> Read on The Observers: How online investigators pieced together the events of the Beirut blast
Hezbollah-owned Al-Amana petrol stations, which have been targeted by American sanctions since February 2020, will be charged with distributing the Iranian fuel.
Hezbollah announced that it would donate half of the supply, some 15 million litres, to government-run hospitals, orphanages, retirement homes and communities in need between September 16 and October 16. A number of establishments are in need of fuel in order to run private generators and deal with electricity blackouts that can last up to 22 hours a day.