A convoy of tanker trucks carrying Iranian diesel crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon early Thursday, a delivery organized by Iran-backed Hizbullah to ease crippling fuel shortages in the crisis-hit country.
The trucks entered from Syria through an illegal crossing in the eastern region of Hermel.
The delivery violates U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran after former President Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers three years ago.
It was portrayed as a victory by Hizbullah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped government grappled with the fuel shortages for months.
The first Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded to Syrian storage places and later brought overland to Lebanon. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing Lebanese authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.
Hizbullah, which is often accused by its opponents of operating a state-within-a-state and has been taking part in Syria's civil war alongside government forces, has its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border away from formal border crossings.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or U.S. officials on the Iranian fuel delivery Thursday.
"Don't forget this day," tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hizbullah won over the Lebanese state.
Hizbullah's al-Manar TV called it "the tanker truck convoys to break the American siege" adding that 20 tanker trucks each carrying 50,000 liters (13,210 gallons) crossed the border Thursday and were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where Hizbullah will start distributing the fuel.
"This is humanitarian aid that will meet the needs of the population," said Jawad, a 50-year-old Hermel resident who was among the crowd gathered to welcome the convoy.
Hizbullah "is not replacing the state, it's a temporary measure until the state can deliver its duties," he said.
"This is a very big and great thing for us because we broke the siege of America and foreign countries. ... We are working with the help of God and our great mother Iran," said Nabiha Idriss, a Hizbullah supporter who gathered with others to greet the tankers' convoy as it passed through the eastern town of al-Ain.
Lebanon is in the grips of a devastating economic crisis. Severe shortages in fuel have paralyzed the country, resulting in crippling power cuts that have disrupted the work of hospitals and bakeries. Just to get gasoline, people must wait hours in line, commonly called, "queues of humiliation."
The tanker trucks crossed from Syria's central province of Homs into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and were welcomed by residents who gathered on the sides of the main road. Hizbullah's yellow flags and banners praising the Iran-backed group and Syria's President Bashar Assad decorated the streets.
The arrival of the Iranian diesel comes nearly a week after a new government was formed ending a 13-month deadlock. Lebanon's new Prime Minister Najib Miqati has not commented on the deal to import fuel from Iran.
Nasrallah said earlier this week that the diesel will be donated for a period of one month to institutions including public hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross. Nasrallah added that others who will get fuel at low prices are private hospitals, medicine and serum factories, bakeries and cooperatives that sell food products.
Nasrallah said three other tankers carrying diesel and one carrying gasoline will arrive in the coming weeks.
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