As life-threatening power outages and telecommunications interruptions swept the area, hospitals in the Akka region of northern Lebanon were working hard this week. A fuel tank explosion in the area killed at least 28 people.

Electric lights and telephone lines in this impoverished and marginalized area have been extinguished. The area has long been affected by poor grid conditions, but due to a severe shortage of diesel across the country, the area is now dealing with an unprecedented crisis.

The power outage on Tuesday occurred less than two days after a fuel tank in the village of al-Tleil exploded. Hot people clamored to fill up the gasoline distributed by the army.

About 80 people, including several soldiers, were injured. Many of them suffered severe burns and the hospital was overwhelmed.

The fuel shortage since the beginning of the summer has exacerbated Lebanon’s plight. This country with a population of more than 6 million is in the throes of an economic crisis. The World Bank has called it one of the most serious economic crises since the mid-nineteenth century.

Without the diesel fuel needed to power private generators, companies, hospitals and even the country’s major telecom operators have had to scale down their operations or shut down completely because of power outages for up to 22 hours a day.

In Acre, the hospital where the bodies of the victims scorched in Sunday’s explosion is still stored without electricity, internet and landline phones, because health officials begged the authorities for help.

“We have 700 liters (nearly 185 gallons) of diesel in stock, which can only be used for one day,” said Dr. Riad Rahal, director of the Rahal Hospital in Harbaak Town.

Assistant director Nathaline El-Chaar said that the nearby El Youssef Hospital also has enough diesel fuel stock to last until Wednesday morning, but there is no telephone line available.

“Since yesterday, the fixed-line telephone service has stopped…We are working hard to ensure the safety of diesel,” she told AFP.

She said that the hospital’s diesel supplier had delayed deliveries, fearing that the highway in northern Lebanon would be attacked, and that incidents in recent days caused angry groups to snatch fuel from trucks.

Fatal queue

But the official National News Agency (NNA) said on Tuesday that diesel fuel shortages and power outages forced Ogero’s telecommunications providers to cut off Internet, landline and mobile phone services in several locations in Acre, effectively paralyzing banks, businesses and national offices.

Imad Kreidieh, head of Ogero, warned that unless things get better, other parts of Lebanon will have to follow suit.

A shooting at a gas station in the southern suburbs of Beirut is the latest in a series of rattling motorists in long lines to refuel.

The NNA stated that the army was deployed in the area after several people were injured in the shooting, but did not provide more details.

A security source told AFP that when soldiers tried to confiscate their inventory, people who illegally stored gasoline at the pumping station fired live ammunition.

They also set fires at gas stations, accusing their owners of providing intelligence to the army.

Videos and pictures circulating on social media showed that the man opened machine guns and opened fire. Agence France-Presse was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

On Saturday, the army began raiding gas stations, confiscating fuel stocks that distributors had been hoarding, and selling them at higher prices on the black market or across the Syrian border.

The Lebanese military said on Twitter that it had seized more than 4.3 million liters (xxx gallons) of gasoline and 2.2 million liters (xxx gallons) of fuel oil between Saturday and Monday.

It said it forced the owners of these supplies to sell almost all gasoline and 1.6 million liters (xxx gallons) of fuel oil to hospitals, bakeries and power companies, and distribute more for free.

‘Bad situation’

At the same time, the Lebanese parliament is expected to meet on Friday to discuss how to deal with the fuel crisis.

The Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, called a meeting to discuss “appropriate action” in response to severe fuel shortages.

A senior UN official said that water supply and basic sanitation services were threatened and warned of a humanitarian disaster.

“Unless an immediate solution is found, the bad situation will only get worse,” said Najat Rochdi, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon.

Last week, the central bank announced that it would no longer fund imported gasoline and diesel at a heavily discounted exchange rate, which effectively ended the subsidy program that promised to substantially increase prices.

Governor Riad Salameh has always disagreed with the government on this move because the government said it should only do so after providing the poor with prepaid cash cards.

Salameh has stated that he can restore subsidies to imports only by passing a law that allows him to use mandatory reserves.

The crisis triggered Lebanon’s bickering politicians again to push for a cabinet that can begin to respond to the financial crisis, which has devalued the currency by more than 90%.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said after a meeting with President Michel Aoun on Tuesday: “We have a few meters left in the game, and I hope God bless us, we are solving it properly.”

Despite rising poverty, Lebanon’s ruling elite has failed to form a new cabinet since Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s resignation following the devastating bombing of Beirut’s port last year.

When asked about two batches of new diesel ships carrying 80 million liters (xxx gallons) reported by the local media at the previous subsidized price of 3,900 Lebanese pounds against the U.S. dollar, Salameh stated that they had been pre-approved in July.

The parallel market exchange rate on Tuesday was 18,500 pounds to the U.S. dollar.

Local broadcasters MTV and al-Jadeed reported on Tuesday that the third batch of gasoline was rejected by the central bank.

Salameh said it must comply with the new announcement. “The new notice will determine the price of sayrafa as the basis for U.S. dollars [letter of credit],” He says.

Sayrafa is the currency exchange platform of the Central Bank.

Hassan Nasrullah, head of the Iran-backed Hezbollah organization, said on Sunday that it will start importing diesel and gasoline from Iran, and the delivery date will be announced soon.


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