BEIRUT: Protesters blocked the international highway in Arida, north Lebanon, Wednesday to prevent fuel tanker trucks from crossing into Syria, a day after the Energy Ministry denied that state refineries were exporting kerosene and red diesel to the war-torn country.
Residents of the border town of Arida blocked the international highway around 8 a.m., the National News Agency said.
Television footage showed dozens of truckers stranded on the road leading to the Arida border crossing.
One protester, who identified himself as Abu Thaer, argued that the fuel was bound for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We will not allow the trucks to enter Syria because fuel is going to the Syrian regime to kill the Syrian people,” Abu Thaer told LBCI.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Abu Thaer said the protesters would keep the highway blocked until midday Wednesday.
“This is the first warning,” he added. Abu Thaer would not elaborate.
He said that the alleged fuel smuggling contradicted Lebanon’s policy of disassociation toward developments in its neighbor.
The protest comes a day after the Energy and Water Ministry dismissed reports of fuel smuggling into Syria as “fabrications for purely political objectives,” amid concerns by local traders of Lebanon becoming entangled by international sanctions against Syria.
The Ministry claimed in a statement Tuesday that no kerosene or red diesel was being exported to Syria from refineries in the north and south of the country.
It said that Syrian tanker trucks seen loading fuel in the Zahrani area, in the south, were being filled by a nearby private oil company and not by the Zahrani refinery itself.
“Oil and fuel re-export is done in accordance with the proper commercial and administrative rules and does not require the prior approval of the minister,” the statement said.
Some oil importers interviewed by The Daily Star have voiced concerns that fuel exports from Lebanon to Syria, estimated at around 1,000 tons a day, may be illegal under sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe.