BEIRUT -- Lebanon, Egypt and Syria signed an agreement Tuesday to import Egyptian gas to a power plant in northern Lebanon through Syria. The deal would increase badly needed electricity supplies in Lebanon, which is suffering under a severe energy crisis and chronic outages.
The agreement still needs to be signed off on by the World Bank, which is supposed to finance the process. Also, U.S. assurances are needed that the countries involved will not be targeted by American sanctions imposed on Syria, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayad said.
Egypt had agreed to supply Lebanon with natural gas to its power plants through Jordan and Syria. Syrian and Lebanese experts have finished renovation work on the pipeline, which has been ready for months.
Fayad had said that about 650 million cubic meters (22.95 billion cubic feet) of gas will be brought to Lebanon through the pipeline annually to the Deir Ammar power station in the north. He added that the amount will lead to the production of 450 megawatts of electricity adding four hours of electricity supplies a day.
“The agreement signed today crowns hard work that began nine months ago,” Fayad said, adding that “we hope that all the obstacles have been removed in order to guarantee funding from the World Bank.”
The Syrian government is under U.S. and Western sanctions for its role in the country's 11-year war, which has left nearly half a million dead and disappeared and nearly half of the population displaced.
As part of the deal, Syria will not get any cash but will take a small amount of the gas.
“We are looking forward to get the final guarantees from the United States, especially regarding sanctions, therefore the support of the United States and the international community is essential,” Fayad said.
The director general of Syria’s General Petroleum Corp., Nabih Khrestin, said the deal would cover some of Lebanon’s need “and we are in more need.”
In January, Lebanon signed deals to purchase electricity from Jordan via Syria to help the small Mediterranean country that is in the grip of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
The deal with the Jordanians, which is expected to bring Lebanon up to 250 megawatts of electricity a day — enough for about two hours of power a day — has not been implemented yet.
Lebanon’s state electricity company now offers about two hours of power a day as part of a deal with Iraq that supplies two power stations with fuel. The deal with Iraq expires in September.
Washington in the past had offered reassurances to Lebanon and Egypt that it supports regional efforts to help Lebanon deal with its energy crisis, while reviewing such agreements to ensure that no sanctions are triggered.
Most residents in Lebanon have been heavily relying on costly, polluting private generators. The aging national grid has not been able to provide 24-hour electricity in the country since the end of the civil war in 1990, and fuel oil subsidies for the state electricity company have been the main driver of the country’s massive national debt.