Lebanese look to Syria, UN to ease fuel shortage
"Our involvement is to facilitate the government's import of fuel through our office in Jerusalem," said Amer Daoudi, emergency coordinator for the World Food Programme, which is in charge of logistics for U.N. aid operations in Lebanon.
"We hope for a positive development in the next 24 hours."
Many petrol stations in Lebanon are now closed because of a three-week old war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas that has seen the Jewish state blockade the country from the air and sea and blow up its main international highway.
Stations that remain open are either supplying motorists with no more than five or 10 litres each or raising prices.
The official price of 20 litres of petrol remains cheap relative to many countries at around $15, but on Tuesday some petrol stations in Beirut were charging $20 at the pump.
"If this situation continues, we have a week to 10 days with rationing. If people just consume as normal fuel will not last four days," said Sami Brax, head of Petrol Station Owners Union.
Syria has agreed to supply Lebanon with petrol from its strategic reserves to compensate for the shortages, the head of the council that oversees bilateral ties between the two countries said on Monday.
But it is not clear how much Syria will supply or how it will be transported across the border, though industry sources say they hope 5 million litres will be delivered this week.
That is enough to cover two days consumption in Lebanon.
"If we don't get petrol from Syria we will run out by Sunday. You will see all movement in the country fall 50 percent," said one petrol industry source in Lebanon.
Bahij Abu Hamze, head of Lebanon's Association of Fuel Importers, said distribution had been capped at 1.2 million litres a day in order to make it last as long as possible.
"We are trying to secure supplies via the United Nations to allow us to bring in fuel by sea," said Abu Hamze.
"We have had no answer from them yet. The United Nations works slowly so we don't see the decision coming.
The United Nations says access for desperately needed aid convoys to southern Lebanon had not improved since Israel agreed to a partial 48-hour suspension of air strikes on Monday.
The United Nations has warned fuel supplies are running low in Lebanon and unless more supplies are let past an Israeli blockade, its humanitarian operation would be compromised.
U.N. sources say they are waiting for Israeli clearance to unload a tanker of fuel oil at the Zouk power station.
Lebanon's power sector was dealt a blow when Israeli jets struck the fuel storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power station south of Beirut. The tanks are still blazing since the strikes on July 13 and 15 and a lot of oil has spilled into the sea.
Electricity has been increasingly strictly rationed since the conflict started. Some areas of Beirut now receive less than 12 hours of electricity a day.
Kamal Hayek, head of the state-run Electricite du Liban power board, was not immediately available for comment.
"The electricity is like an apple. You can cut it into two and make it last two meals or three for three meals or six for six," said the industry source. "But it is still one apple."
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