A shipment of Iranian fuel oil for Lebanonwill set sail on Thursday organised by the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, the group said, warning its U.S. and Israeli adversaries the ship would be considered Lebanese territory as soon as it sailed.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said further ships would follow to help the people of Lebanon, who are enduring crippling fuel shortages as a result of the country's two-year-long financial meltdown.
"We don't want to get into a challenge with anyone, we don't want to get into a problem with anyone. We want to help our people," Nasrallah said. "I say to the Americans and the Israelis that the boat that will sail within hours from Iran is Lebanese territory."
"God willing, this ship and others will arrive safely," Nasrallah said, in a televised address commemorating Ashura, when Shi'ites mark the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in battle in 680.
Nasrallah, whose heavily armed group was founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, did not say where or when the ship would arrive, saying this would be discussed when it reached the Mediterranean.
In April, Reuters reported that Hezbollah was preparing fuel storage space in Syria as part of its efforts to deal with the financial crisis in Lebanon, citing senior officials familiar with the efforts.
The group has fighters and influence in neighbouring Syria, where Hezbollah has fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.
Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Laila Bassam; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Jason Neely and Gareth Jones