BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon, Egypt and Syria signed an agreement Tuesday to import Egyptian natural gas through Syria to a power plant in northern Lebanon. The agreement will increase much-needed electricity supplies in Lebanon, which is suffering from a severe energy crisis and prolonged blackouts.
The agreement still needs to be signed by the World Bank, which is supposed to finance the process. In addition, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said U.S. assurances were needed that countries would not be targeted by U.S. sanctions on Syria.
Egypt has agreed to supply natural gas to power plants in Lebanon through Jordan and Syria. Syrian and Lebanese experts have completed the renovation of the pipeline, which has been ready for several months.
Fayad has said that about 650 million cubic meters (22.95 billion cubic feet) of natural gas will be piped to the Deir Amar power station in northern Lebanon each year. He added that this amount would result in the generation of 450 megawatts of electricity, adding four hours a day to the electricity supply.
“The agreement signed today crowns the hard work that began nine months ago,” Fayyad said, adding, “We hope all obstacles have been removed to secure World Bank funding.”
The Syrian government has been sanctioned by the United States and the West for its role in the country’s 11-year war, which has left nearly half a million people dead and missing and displaced nearly half of the population.
Syria will not receive any cash as part of the deal, but will take a small amount of gas.
“We look forward to final assurances from the United States, especially with regard to sanctions, so support from the United States and the international community is crucial,” Fayyad said.
Nabi Khrestin, director-general of Syrian General Oil, said the agreement would meet some of Lebanon’s needs, “we need it more”.
In January, Lebanon signed an agreement to buy electricity from Jordan through Syria to help the small Mediterranean country in the midst of the worst economic and financial crisis in modern history.
The deal with the Jordanians is expected to bring Lebanon’s electricity to 250 megawatts per day — enough for about two hours a day — but has not yet been implemented.
Lebanon’s national electricity company now provides about two hours of electricity a day as part of an agreement with Iraq that fuels two power stations. The deal with Iraq expires in September.
Washington has assured Lebanon and Egypt in the past that it supports regional efforts to help Lebanon deal with the energy crisis, while reviewing such agreements to ensure sanctions are not triggered.
Most of Lebanon’s residents have been heavily reliant on expensive and polluting private generators. Since the end of the civil war in 1990, the aging national grid has been unable to provide 24-hour power in the country, and fuel oil subsidies to state power companies have been the main driver of the country’s huge national debt.