U.N. Negotiates Passage of 2 Oil Tankers Into Lebanon

Two oil tankers are being permitted by Israel to sail into Lebanon to help ease a growing fuel crisis in the country, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

The World Food Program said it had negotiated safe passage for two shipments totaling 96,000 U.S. tons of oil and diesel to reach the ports of Beirut and Tripoli within the next 24 hours.

"The fuel situation is really critical across the country," said WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume.

"Almost all the petrol stations are shut. Fuel supplies for power stations and water pumping stations are all but exhausted."

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WFP successfully negotiated clearance from Israel for the two tankers to deliver fuel to the Lebanese government, which will be responsible for its distribution.

Berthiaume said the fuel would be used for commercial purposes to ensure that the Lebanese economy doesn't come to a complete standstill, halting what food production and distribution is still functioning.

She said that water pumps are being affected by the shortage, and the baking of bread — a staple food in Lebanon — is also under threat.

WFP, which is coordinating aid convoys for all U.N. agencies in Lebanon, currently has enough diesel fuel to carry out relief shipments, she said.

The agency is sending two convoys Wednesday from Beirut to Tyre and Sidon in the south, as well as one to the north of Lebanon, where many refugees have fled.

A convoy which was meant to arrive in Tibnine on Tuesday but was forced to stop overnight in Tyre will also reach its destination today, Berthiaume said.

So far, WFP has dispatched nine convoys carrying a total of 310 U.S. tons of food, plus medical supplies and shelter materials for other U.N. organizations.

The U.N. requires all convoys to be cleared by Israel and Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, the Israeli army declined to grant permission for a convoy destined for Rmaich, about 85 miles south of Beirut, said Berthiaume. The convoy was prevented from traveling Tuesday for the same reason.

Rmaich, located close to the Israeli border, normally has 5,000 residents but is now hosting 25,000 people who have fled the surrounding areas.

Berthiaume said the IDF had not given reasons for not approving the shipments, but heavy fighting was taking place in the area.

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