BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president on Friday rejected any international probe into the catastrophic port blast, saying a missile or negligence could have been responsible as rescuers desperately combed the rubble for survivors.
The entrenched ruling class has come under fire once again since Tuesday’s explosion, which killed at least 154 people and devastated swathes of the capital.
The revelation that a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years in a warehouse in the heart of the capital served as shocking proof to many Lebanese of the rot at the core of their political system.
Even Lebanese President Michel Aoun admitted on Friday that the “paralysed” system needed to be “reconsidered”. “We are facing changes and reconsidering our system, which is built on consensus, after it was seen to be paralysed and incapable of swiftly executing decisions,” Aoun told reporters.
He pledged “swift justice”, but rejected widespread calls for an international probe, telling a reporter he saw it as an attempt to “dilute the truth”.
“There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb,” he said, the first time a top Lebanese official raised the possibility that the port had been attacked.
What ignited the massive shipment of the chemical remains unclear — officials have said work had recently begun on repairs to the warehouse, while others suspected fireworks stored either in the same place or nearby. Near the seat of the explosion, by the carcass of the port’s giant grain silos, rescue teams from France, Russia, Germany, Italy and other countries coordinated their search efforts.
Four bodies were uncovered near the port’s control room, where a significant number of people were expected to have been working at the time of the blast. No one has been found alive.
“I am waiting to hear that you have been rescued alive, my dear,” tweeted Emilie Hasrouty, whose brother is among the missing. “I am paralysed with fear.”
At the port, reduced to an enormous scrapyard, excavators removed mangled shipping containers to clear a path for rescuers. Civil defence teams anxiously watched a sniffer dog as he paced around a gap under a fallen crane.
Beirut has received a stream of international assistance since the blast, with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, set to visit the ravaged capital on Saturday.
French President Emmanuel Macron was the first world leader to touch down in Lebanon on Thursday, where he pressed officials to enact deep reform ahead of an aid conference planned in the coming days.
Macron spoke on Friday to US President Donald Trump, with the White House saying they would work “with international partners to provide immediate aid to the Lebanese people”.
The World Food Programme promised food to affected families and wheat imports to replace lost stocks from the port’s disembowelled silos. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, called for $15 million to cover immediate health needs.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020