Convoy of tanker trucks carrying Iranian fuel crosses border from Syria into Lebanon, a delivery organised by Hezbollah group to ease crippling fuel shortages in the Arab country.
Dozens of tanker trucks carrying Iranian fuel arranged by Hezbollah have arrived in shortage-hit Lebanon, a move the group said should ease a crippling energy crisis but which opponents say risks provoking US sanctions.
Some 80 trucks carrying Iranian fuel oil entered northeastern Lebanon near the village of Al Ain via Syria, where Hezbollah's yellow flag fluttered from lampposts.
"Thank you, Iran. Thank you Assad's Syria," declared a banner, referring to Syrian regime leader, Bashar al Assad.
The trucks sounded their horns as they passed through Al Ain. Some onlookers waved Hezbollah's flag, while a woman and boy threw petals at one vehicle.
The trucks carrying four million litres of petrol were expected to fill the tanks of Al Amana, a fuel distribution company which is owned by Hezbollah and has been under US sanctions since February 2020.
"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.
Hezbollah "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 Hezbollah supporter who gathered with others to greet the tankers' convoy as it passed through the eastern town of Al Ain.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah has said the ship carrying the fuel docked in Syria on Sunday after being told going to Lebanon could risk sanctions.
Washington has reiterated that US sanctions on Iranian oil sales remain in place.
But it has not said whether it is considering taking any action over the move by Hezbollah, which it has designated a "terrorist group."
The Lebanese government has said its permission was not sought to import the fuel.
A security source said the tanker trucks passed through an unofficial border crossing.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or US officials on the Iranian fuel delivery.
"Don't forget this day," tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hezbollah won over the Lebanese state.
Hezbollah stretching its role
The move marks an expansion of Hezbollah's role in Lebanon, where critics have long accused the group of acting as a state within the state.
Founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, Hezbollah has long been part of Lebanon's governing system, with ministers and members of parliament.
It has fought numerous wars with Israel, and its fighters have helped Assad in the Syrian war.
Hezbollah has said it will donate fuel oil to institutions in need including government hospitals and orphanages and sell it at "an appropriate price" to others including private hospitals, medical storage facilities, and flour mills.
Breaking 'American siege'
The energy crisis is a result of a financial meltdown since 2019, sinking the currency by some 90 percent and sending more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.
Fuel supplies have dried up because Lebanon does not have enough hard currency to cover even vital imports, forcing essential services including some hospitals to scale back or shut down and sparking numerous security incidents.
Hezbollah declared it had broken an "American siege".
Lebanon's financial system unravelled as a result of decades of profligate spending by a state riddled with corruption and waste, and the unsustainable way it was financed.
READ MORE: Lebanon's fuel crisis deepens as prices soar
The French ambassador rebuked the former prime minister in July for saying Lebanon was under siege, saying the crisis was the result of years of mismanagement and inaction by Lebanon.
Hezbollah promises more fuel
Western governments and donor institutions have said they will unlock aid once Lebanon enacts reforms.
The United States, a big supplier of humanitarian and military aid to Lebanon, is backing a plan to ease the energy crisis using Egyptian natural gas piped via Jordan and Syria.
The US ambassador has said Lebanon does not need Iranian fuel.
READ MORE: UN allocates $10M to power Lebanon hospitals
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said a second ship with fuel oil will arrive in the Syrian port of Baniyas in a few days, with a third and fourth, respectively carrying gasoline and fuel oil, also due.
A new government aims to resume talks with the IMF to tackle the crisis.