Relief organisations accuse Lebanese company of using Syrian port without UN consent

A group of European and Arab NGOs have accused a Lebanese-Canadian-owned company of shipping flammable cargo via the Syrian port of Tartus, a fact that, they say, is in breach of the cease-fire agreement in Syria.

The NGOs say Haneen Benzabous’ company, Lebanese Shield Trading, was the third-largest exporter of cargo through the port in April and May 2017, according to the UN.

Tartus and nearby Jableh in the coastal province of Homs are popular sites for Syrian rebel movements. The shipping protocol is that the third-party flag is changed to the Lebanese flag.

But an investigation by Civil Defence and Search and Rescue (ANSAR) found that shelling took place in Jableh – following such attacks, the aid organizations say, Lebanese Shield Trading ships the cargo for shipment to the port.

Lebanese Shield Trading sent out a statement saying they “did not participate in any business with any parties connected to the Syrian opposition parties” and that they “had the right to send or refuse cargo at any port or destination.”

Yet under the cease-fire agreement, although material is imported, it must be transported by a third-party flag. In April and May, according to the report, Lebanese Shield Trading shipped cargo through the port via a trans-shipment agent registered in Toulon, a French city in the south of France, and the Hamburg port in Germany.

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“Our investigation revealed that Lebanese Shield Trading of Haneen Benzabous transferred flammable cargo between the Syrian coast, at Tartus, and Jableh,” the civil society groups said in their report. “The incendiary cargo has been used to litigate targeted attacks that have often resulted in civilian casualties, including at least one attack in June 2018.”

The humanitarian organizations have requested an international investigation into the situation in Jableh and have called on the port manager of Tartus to help prevent the cargo from shipping.

“This incident is absolutely shameful in its laxity and impunity, and it has been exposed through an eye-witness video,” said Gauri van Gulik, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. “The ship docked at Port Jableh with all state regulations in place, while despite authorities having ample knowledge of Lebanese Shield Trading’s actions, the Syrian port continues to facilitate their use.”

Lebanon and France are some of the most critical allies of the Syrian government. The French government has announced the idea of “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move which prompted two Lebanese banks to withdraw their operations from business in Idlib province, where two Lebanese companies operate.

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