Hezbollah illegally bringing Iranian oil to Lebanon

An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Hezbollah illegally bringing Iranian oil to Lebanon

An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
  • Iran-backed militant group says it will bring 3 million liters of fuel to Baalbek on Thursday, which could expose Beirut to US sanctions
  • Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister said he ‘did not receive any request to approve fuel importation’ undertaken by Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Despite the threat of possible US sanctions, Hezbollah has arranged up to 80 oil tankers carrying Iranian diesel fuel to arrive in Lebanon via Syria on Thursday.

The tankers are destined for Baalbek, about 67 kilometers northeast of Beirut, where the fuel will be discharged into tankers owned by the Iran-backed Hezbollah. The group has also organized a ceremony to celebrate the shipment, which is expected to contain 3 million liters of fuel.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the militant group, said in August that an Iranian fuel tanker will sail toward Lebanon “within hours,” warning Israel and the US not to intercept it. The move, Hezbollah said, was to help ease Lebanon’s crippling fuel shortage that has paralyzed the country for weeks.

Raymond Ghajar, Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister, said he “did not receive any request to approve fuel importation” undertaken by Hezbollah.

The delivery would violate US sanctions imposed on Tehran after former US President Donald Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers three years ago. Hezbollah’s step is also likely to expose Lebanon to similar US sanctions.

Nasrallah said on Monday the Iranian ship docked on Sunday night in Syria’s Banias port and started to discharge diesel fuel in Syrian tankers that will arrive in Baalbek on Thursday.

“The vessel destined for Baalbek will arrive through Hermel,” Nasrallah said.

There are no legal border crossings in the region as Hezbollah allegedly uses the Hermel crossing for smuggling.

Al-Amana, a US-sanctioned company that belongs to Hezbollah, is expected to receive the transported Iranian fuel.

Nasrallah claimed he “spared Lebanon embarrassment by docking the ship in a Syrian port and not a Lebanese one.”

However, the arrival of diesel tankers in Lebanon will reveal the state’s vulnerability regarding the violation of its borders and the importation of fuel without its knowledge or approval. The US previously warned that any Iranian fuel ship that brings fuel for Lebanon would equate to “providing Hezbollah with funds.”

The US, the UK, and Germany are among a growing number of countries that recognize Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

Dorothy Shea, US ambassador to Lebanon, blocked the road for the Iranian initiative on Aug. 21 by informing Lebanon President Michel Aoun “of the US administration’s decision to help Lebanon obtain electricity from Jordan via Syria.” The plan would provide Egyptian natural gas to Jordan that can be transmitted to Lebanon via Syria.

She said: “Lebanon does not need Iranian ships,” and questioned whether “it was possible to count on Hezbollah to fairly distribute the fuel.”

According to Hezbollah, the Iranian diesel shipment “will be donated.” The group said it will aid “governmental hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, municipalities that handle the task of pumping water, fire brigades and the Lebanese Red Cross.”

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Hezbollah called on the representatives of these bodies to attend Thursday’s ceremony in Baalbek.

“A second diesel ship that will arrive within five days,” said Nasrallah, who also claimed a third ship destined for Lebanon had started loading gasoline.

He said the goal is “not to compete with importing companies or to make profits but to serve the people.”

Nasrallah also announced that the group will open the door for individual purchases with the start of winter.

“The price will be announced on Thursday and the diesel will be priced in Lebanese pound,” Nasrallah said. “There is also the cost of transportation and the international price. We will sell at prices lower than the cost because we are not seeking to make profits or losses. We will bear a part of the cost, which will be a donation from our side and the Iranian state.”

Diana Kaissy, an energy expert and advisory board member at the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative, LOGI, an independent non-governmental organization based in Beirut, told Arab News: “A lot of opacity is prevailing on the Iranian diesel shipment.”

She said the 3 million liters is nothing compared to the market’s needs.

“But the problem is that the shipment did not obtain a permit from the energy ministry and the diesel will be sold at prices lower than the market price,” Kaissy said. “This means that there will be a competitor in the fuel market and therefore, a new cartel will emerge owning illegal weapons and selling fuel based on incorrect foundations.”

Hezbollah is trying to help the people with fuel but its execution is concerning.

“The situation is not clear,” Kaissy said. “Sales are made on the black market and there is a political party now openly creating a new black market under the pretext that the people need it and to put an end to monopoly. But who knows that this step will not create another monopoly?”


Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
Updated 19 September 2021

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.


Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined”

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday reasserted the Islamic republic’s longstanding ban on competitive sport with Israelis, and promised support for athletes disciplined by international bodies for respecting it.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by forfeiting the match or by simply not participating.
“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei told a reception for Iran’s medallists from the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The illegitimate, bloodthirsty ... Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by,” he added, in comments posted on his official website.

BACKGROUND

In Tokyo, Iran won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, as well as 24 Paralympic medals.

Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined.”
He was referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after the draw set him on course for a possible matchup against an Israeli opponent, prompting his suspension from international competition.


North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million

TUNIS: Weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases overwhelmed intensive care units across North Africa with severe oxygen shortages sparking public anger, case numbers are sharply declining.
Images of intensive care units overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in July sparked outrage in Tunisia, which has suffered the region’s highest number of deaths per head from the virus, with around 24,500 in a population of 11.7 million.
Authorities responded to the surge with a strict early evening curfew and travel restrictions. Neighboring Libya closed its border with Tunisia. Those measures have now been eased.
“There’s the effect of mass vaccination of the population,” said Hechmi Louzir, director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, who is a member of the country’s scientific committee on the pandemic.
More than a quarter of Tunisians are now fully inoculated.
Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million. The kingdom is ahead of its Maghreb neighbors in inoculations, with 46.7 percent fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry official Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih said this week that infections were down for a fifth straight week. But in comments carried by the official MAP news agency, he warned that “high rates of critical cases and deaths continue to be recorded.”
With an official toll of 5,650 deaths, Algeria announced a target in September to vaccinate 70 percent of its 43.9 million population by the end of the year.
But AFP figures show that this week, barely 13 percent of the population had received a first vaccine jab, with fewer than 10 percent fully vaccinated.
The country’s caseload peaked in the last week of July with over 10,000 infections, but has since plummeted. While the first week of August saw 268 deaths, the last seven days saw 132.


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.