BEIRUT (AP) — Demonstrators blocked a highway connecting Lebanon and Syria on Monday with burned tires and metal bars, protesting a decision by Lebanese authorities aimed at curbing smuggling into Syria, Lebanon's official news agency reported.
The outcry was particularly striking because it comes amid a worsening fuel shortage in Lebanon that many blame on increased smuggling into Syria from the tiny country.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped government, which has dwindling foreign reserves, is struggling to secure fuel and subsidizing imports that include most of the country’s basic goods and medicine.
Customs authorities in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region announced they will strictly enforce permit requirements for vehicles going into Syria to limit smuggling of fuel.
The National News Agency said dozens of protesters on the international highway demanded the decision be applied to all those crossing into Syria or be scrapped.
Powerful smuggling cartels have operated across the porous borders for years, particularly during the civil war over the last decade in Syria, where economic conditions and shortages are also increasing.
But Lebanon has been experiencing a crippling economic and financial crisis since late 2019. The crisis is rooted in years of corruption and mismanagement, but many also blame smuggling into Syria for now depriving Lebanon's economy of much needed basics.
With worsening living conditions in Lebanon, some are filling up their cars with goods and fuel and traveling into Syria through the Masnaa crossing to sell them on the other side.
A shortage of fuel is the latest grievance for the the Lebanese population, who are quickly sinking into new depths of poverty.
Long lines have formed outside gas stations in cities and towns in Lebanon, choking traffic. Motorists line up for hours to fill up but only receive rationed amounts of fuel. Nerves have frayed in the long waits and in a number of incidents, angry drivers have fired guns in the air to jump the line or demand more fuel.
Power outages have also increased. Generator operators, who typically have made up for a patchy national power grid, are also beginning to ration their services — leaving neighborhoods in total darkness for hours.