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Lebanon blocks Iran cargo ships from docking over US sanctions fears

July 2, 2020 at 1:19 pm

Iranian navy stand at a port on 27 February 2020. [Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency]

Iranian cargo ships in Lebanese waters have been prevented from docking and unloading over fears the move may lead to the extension of US sanctions onto the Mediterranean state, according to a report by Al-Hurra.

The imports include foodstuffs, medicine and fuel, among other items and are intended to help alleviate the deteriorating living standards in Lebanon as the country faces its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990.

However, accepting the imports, which can reportedly be exchanged for local goods or paid for in local currency, rather than dollars, could violate UN Security Council sanctions on Iran, and lead to the imposition of US sanctions on Lebanon.

Legally, the report quotes Shafiq Al-Masri, an international law professor, as saying, Lebanon can conduct trade with Iran “except what is covered by the sanctions issued by the UN Security Council”.

Adding that “Lebanon is committed to Resolution No. 1929 (sanctions on Iran over nuclear proliferation and uranium enrichment) issued by the Security Council under Chapter Seven, and the previous international laws.”

United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929, adopted in June 2010, imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over it’s nuclear programme. It was however terminated by UNSC Resolution 2231 in January 2016, when the “Iran Nuclear Deal” with the P5+1 countries came into effect.

Al-Masri went on to say “American sanctions are not legally binding on Lebanon, as they are state-to-state sanctions and not international sanctions against Iran.”

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Al-Masri warned the consequences of violating these laws, even under the conditions of economic crisis, could be severe.

While, economics expert Walid Abu Suleiman, warned US sanctions could be ruinous for Lebanese entities. Abu Suleiman was quoted as citing the Jamal Trust Bank which was “closed by the stroke of a pen” after the US imposed sanctions on the organisation, as an example.

The move comes after Iran said the state was ready to supply Lebanon with fuel sent on ships, similar to the Islamic Republic’s trade deal with Venezuela.

Meanwhile pro-Hezbollah media outlets, including the Lebanese daily Al-Akbar called on the government to “breach the American economic blockade” by accepting Iranian imports. The report stressed the need to open up “to Iranian support by accepting the offers presented”.

As the economic situation in Lebanon has deteriorated in recent weeks, citizens have taken to Facebook to barter and exchange clothes and furniture for food, with pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets across the country surfacing on social media.

The local currency, the Lebanese lira, has lost more than 80 per cent of its value since October, and is now trading at approximately 9,000 lira to $1. While, power outages have become increasingly frequent amid soaring food prices and unemployment.

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Note: This page was updated at 12.59pm BST on 3 July 2020 to add that UNSC Resolution 1929 was terminated by the Resolution 2231 in January 2016.