BYBLOS, Lebanon — Israeli air strikes on an electricity plant have released oil that has now spread over much of Lebanon’s coastline.
More than 15,000 tons of oil have hit the coast after the bombing of five of six storage tanks at the plant in the coastal village El-Jiye, 30km south of Beirut. The northern winds have taken the massive oil slick to beaches and ports a long way up the coast.
“The Lebanese government definitely does not have the capability to clean this up,” Nabil Baz, a restaurant owner in Byblos town on the coast, 38km south of Beirut, told IPS.. “I heard we were going to get some help from Kuwait, but I don’t know how true this is or when they might start the cleanup process.”
Byblos, whose economy relies heavily on fishing and tourism, dates to the 5th millennium BC. It is believed that the linear alphabet originated here.
Sitting in his empty restaurant overlooking the once scenic ancient fishing harbour, Baz shook his head looking at the thick oil sludge covering most of the harbour now.
“No fishermen are able to work at all,” he said. “I have no idea how our community will recover from this. We are going to need some serious help.”
Joseph Chaloub, a 55-year-old fisherman, said “the problem is there is no cleanup, and then there is the Israeli blockade. It’s a catastrophe. People have lost their livelihood..” The Israeli naval blockade of Lebanon is stopping boats leaving the coast or coming in to Lebanon.
The economy of Byblos that relies on tourism, like so many other cities in Lebanon, has ground to a near standstill.
“Everything is down now, only the local markets and the refugees are keeping our economy going,” local banker Tony Ashar told IPS. “Also there is no U.S. currency in our banks to give to people when they want to make a withdrawal.”
Ashar said dollars have been in short supply since Israeli warplanes bombed Beirut airport. Lebanese banks keep dollars for tourists since the value of the Lebanese currency is low and fluid.
“We usually have U.S. currency flown in, but now there’s a big concern that we may have to limit the amount of U.S. dollars we can give out,” Ashar said. “So that makes it difficult for people to travel, which is a big problem since so many people are leaving the country now.”
In Beirut, Lebanese immigration authorities are working 18 hours a day and issuing an average of 5,000 passports daily as the flow of people out of Lebanon continues.
Mohamad Yasouk, an information technology engineer, said the already weakened economy of Lebanon would not survive if the war lasted another two weeks.
“With the oil spill and the war, all of the tourists are gone,” he said. “I came to Byblos from south Beirut since my home was bombed, yet even here two nights ago the Israelis bombed an Army radar nearby. The same one they bombed two weeks ago.”
The tourist beaches off the coast of Beirut stand empty as well. Pools of oil slosh up with the waves, staining the beach and the rocks.
“If we tried to fish, the Israelis would kill us,” said Hafez, a Palestinian fisherman. “But nobody would eat the fish anyway even if we could fish.. Now we wait for a miracle, something to take this oil away and stop this war.”