Hezbollah-owned company offers cut price fuel in challenge to Lebanese state
The Hezbollah-owned petroleum corporation Al-Amana has announced that it will sell Iranian fuel oil at reduced prices until the end of September after the oil arrived in Lebanon without authorization from the country’s government.
The corporation, which has been sanctioned by the US government, said in a statement that it would sell oil for Lebanese lira and charge 140,000 lira (approximately $9.15) for 20 litres of fuel oil.
The statement said the rates would be lower than the official government price, which is $10.98 for 20 litres of fuel oil, not counting the transportation costs and profit margins of private companies.
Lebanon is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis and crippling fuel shortages have led to long queues and violence at petrol stations.
Last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced in a speech that Iranian oil arriving in Lebanon would be sold for Lebanese lira rather than US dollars and for less than official government prices.
The recently formed Lebanese government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has denounced Hezbollah's unauthorised importation of Iranian oil to Lebanon as "a violation of Lebanese sovereignty".
The fuel was imported on dozens of trucks that arrived via Syria last week. Hezbollah has received support from Iran ever since it was formed in the 1980s and has intervened militarily in the Syrian conflict on the side of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.
Analysts have described the organisation's move as an effective sidelining of the Lebanese state.
"It's very clear that the state is unable to stop Hezbollah. The state is watching and it's paralysed and it can't take any action," political activist and energy expert Laury Haytayan told AFP.
The director-general of Amanah, Usama Eleik, previously told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, that some of the fuel would be distributed free of charge to government hospitals, orphanages, fire stations, water plants, and the homes of elderly and disabled people.
Fuel supplies would also be sold to private hospitals, medicine factories, bakeries, and other essential institutions, he said.
However, an anonymous source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that most of those who had received fuel were members or supporters of Hezbollah or institutions linked to the Iran-backed group.
The source said that humanitarian institutions were reluctant to buy the fuel for fear of being targeted by US sanctions.
"Some American organisations which support Lebanese institutions provided support in the form of fuel when the Iranian oil arrived, so that those institutions don't resort to the Amana company and Hezbollah," the source added.
One of the first acts of Prime Minister Mikati's government was to remove subsidies on fuel oil and set prices in US dollars, rather than Lebanese lira for it. The move was criticised by economic experts.