CAIRO -- Lebanese Hizbullah is funneling the aid that international organisations have allocated to the general population to its own supporters in an attempt to appease them, as discontent with the party grows among its base.
While many in the wider population lay a large share of the blame for the current state of affairs in Lebanon on the Iran-backed party, Hizbullah's own base has started to express frustration over its destructive policies as well, observers said.
To quell this internal rumbling and keep its supporters happy, the party has been siphoning off aid received from local and international organisations, said a Hizbullah opponent who uses the social media handle "Hizbullah dissident".
"Hizbullah was able to infiltrate the civil society system in Lebanon and the non-profit organisations that distribute in-kind aid," he told Al-Mashareq.
"These organisations receive food aid provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for Lebanese citizens to help them overcome the difficult economic conditions they are going through," he said.
Hizbullah has set up tents in Beirut's southern suburbs -- a party stronghold -- to distribute aid that it has stolen in various ways, the dissident said.
A photo circulating on social media shows a woman with boxes of aid she received from Hizbullah elements in Jamous neighbourhood's Ashura Square.
The boxes were actually part of humanitarian aid shipments provided by USAID and the World Food Programme.
Similarity to Syrian regime
Hizbullah is "defying the United States and the international community by distributing aid it stole from international organisations", Lebanese journalist Hussein Qassem said.
Qassem said the party could have repackaged the aid from local and international donors into boxes bearing its own logo or logos of charity organisations affiliated with it, to hide the aid's origin.
Instead, it insisted on keeping the international donors' logos on the aid boxes as it knows these organisations have the Lebanese people's best interests at heart and will continue to provide aid to them through non-governmental channels to avoid corruption.
He called for an investigation into Hizbullah's aid distribution.
The party's distribution of this aid has backfired, he said, as it highlights the devious ways in which it operates and how it exploits aid meant for the general public.
Hizbullah's exploitation is very similar to the behaviour exhibited by the Syrian regime, which steals aid funds provided by international bodies and governments to help the Syrian people, Qassem said.
Aid theft in Syria most likely started in 2014, observers say, when signs of a crisis began to appear and the international community decided to help the Syrian people directly, in light of the sanctions imposed on the government.
The Syrian regime has put great pressure on the employees of international organisations tasked with supervising the distribution of aid, activist Mohammed al-Beik said.
Faced with this pressure, which has put the safety of their employees at risk, international aid organisations have been forced to recruit local residents to complete the aid distribution process, he said.
But in many cases, these individuals are Syrian regime loyalists and are involved "in one way or another" in the theft of food aid, al-Beik said, noting that the aid is held in the regime's warehouses before distribution.
Stolen seeds and fertilisers
Tyre-based university student and activist Ali Hussein told Al-Mashareq that Hizbullah's distribution of USAID aid under its own name is not unique.
The theft also includes seeds and fertilisers intended for farmers, which are being distributed in Hizbullah's name or in the name of charities or MPs affiliated with him, he said.
This is an attempt to appease the party's supporters and its base in light of increasing public discontent amid Lebanon's economic crisis, Hussein said.
Many Lebanese expats around the world send financial or in-kind assistance to the residents of their hometowns.
But Hizbullah imposed a rule several months ago in areas it controls that requires donors to send the aid to the party first, so it can redistribute it as it pleases, Hussein said, which has caused resentment among donors.
"Hizbullah exerts pressure on these donors... especially since a large number of them do not support the party or are independent and do not engage in partisan activities," Hussein said.
Shia donors who are not affiliated with the party have come under particular pressure, he added.