Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned Israel and the United States against interfering with an oil tanker that was set to leave Iran for Lebanon on Thursday.
In a televised address commemorating the Shi’ite Ashura holiday, Nasrallah said that the ship would be considered Lebanese territory from the moment it set sail, according to Reuters.
“God willing, this ship and others will arrive safely,” he added.
Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis and experiencing widespread shortages, not only of fuel but also of food, electricity and essential medicines. The oil tanker is ostensibly on its way to alleviate the crisis.
Najat Rochdi, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, said in a statement on Aug. 17 that the fuel shortage required an “immediate solution,” as it was jeopardizing public health.
“I am deeply concerned about the impact of the fuel crisis on access to health care and water supply for millions of people in Lebanon,” said Rochdi, adding, “A bad situation only stands to get worse unless an instant solution is found.”
Lebanon’s largest hospitals have reduced their activities due to fuel and electricity shortages, which have also left millions without access to public water supplies, according to the statement. Essential medicines are unavailable, and hundreds of healthcare workers have left the country due to the deteriorating economic situation.
The situation is made even more critical in light of the fact that Lebanon, like most countries in the world, is facing a new wave of COVID-19 cases, noted Rochdi.
In his Ashura address, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah wasn’t looking for a showdown.
“We don’t want to get into a challenge with anyone; we don’t want to get into a problem with anyone. We want to help our people,” said Nasrallah, according to Reuters.
Nasrallah did not specify when or where the ship would arrive, saying this would be discussed when it reached the Mediterranean.
Hezbollah has been preparing fuel-storage facilities in Lebanon as far back as April, according to Reuters.
Lebanese troops deployed to petrol stations in the country last week, forcing owners who had been hoarding fuel to sell, according to Al Jazeera. The Lebanese army has also been cracking down on fuel smuggling along the Syrian border.
At least 28 people were killed and 79 injured when a fuel tank exploded in northern Lebanon early on Sunday, Reuters reported.
The report cited military and security sources who said that the Lebanese army had seized a fuel-storage tank hidden by black marketeers and was distributing gasoline to residents when the explosion occurred.
It was the largest explosion in Lebanon since the Beirut Port blast on Aug. 4