AL-AIN, Lebanon -- The first of several truck convoys carrying one million gallons of Iranian fuel arrived in Lebanon from Syria on Thursday in defiance of US sanctions, to help ease crippling fuel shortages. Crowds of supporters lined up the streets cheering and greeting the convoys after they rolled down into Lebanon which is facing dire economic crisis.
The first in a series of deliveries organized by the Hezbollah movement were carried by two convoys totaling 40 trucks.
The shipment is being portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped Lebanese government grapples with months-long fuel shortages that have paralyzed the country.
The overland delivery through neighboring Syria violates U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran after former President Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Tehran, and world powers in 2018.
The first of four Iranian fuel tankers docked in Syria's Baniyas port earlier this week.
Oil export monitor Tanker Trackers says the four-tanker shipment contains a total of 33,000 metric tonnes of gasoil and would need 792 trucks to deliver the entire shipment to Lebanon.
Lebanon's energy crisis is a result of an economic meltdown that has devastated the country since 2019. The value of the Lebanese pound has plummeted by about 90 percent and about three-quarters of the population lives in poverty.
Severe shortages in fuel have resulted in crippling power cuts. People wait hours in line for gasoline. Protests and scuffles have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon.
Hospitals in Lebanon are in critical condition as they struggle to secure enough fuel to keep their lights on and equipment functioning.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech earlier this week that a month's supply of the Iranian fuel would be donated to institutions such as public hospitals, the Lebanese Red Cross, Civil Defence forces, and orphanages.
Private hospitals, bakeries, factories that produce medicines, and other institutions can purchase the fuel at a low cost in Lebanese pounds. Nasrallah said they have not yet determined the price, but said it would be very affordable and not for profit.
"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 Hezbollah supporter gathered with others to greet the convoy as it passed through the eastern town of Al-Ain.
Hezbollah has portrayed the Lebanese economic meltdown, which began in late 2019, as partly caused by an informal siege imposed by America due to the militant group's power and influence in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, often accused of operating a state-within-a-state, has been taking part in Syria's civil war alongside government forces. It manages its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border, away from formal border crossings.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.
Lebanese gathered on the roadside leading to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to greet the convoy. Hezbollah's yellow flags and banners praising the Iran-backed group decorated the streets. A few women showered the trucks with rice and flowers as they drove past. Others raised banners reading: "Thank you Iran," and "Thank you Syria." Heavy gunfire, and at least one rocket propelled-grenade, were fired in celebration.
Lebanon's new Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose government was formed last week after a 13-month political deadlock, has not commented on Hezbollah's deal to import fuel from Iran.