Lebanon president rejects global probe into port blast

Published August 8, 2020
Volunteers gather to clear the debris in areas of Beirut that were damaged by a blast in the Lebanese capital’s port three days earlier.—AFP
Volunteers gather to clear the debris in areas of Beirut that were damaged by a blast in the Lebanese capital’s port three days earlier.—AFP

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

Opinion

Farewell Roosevelt Hotel
21 Jan 2021

Farewell Roosevelt Hotel

It is worth noting that massive plans have been upended and assets are now on the verge of being seized.
A horned dilemma
21 Jan 2021

A horned dilemma

Trump would rather ‘reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n’.
Violence & Afghan peace talks
Updated 20 Jan 2021

Violence & Afghan peace talks

Many of those killed in recent weeks have actively been campaigning against rampant violence and rising human rights violations

Editorial

Updated 21 Jan 2021

Agosta kickbacks trial

A POLITICALLY significant trial opened in Paris yesterday. Former French prime minister Edouard Balladur is in the...
Updated 21 Jan 2021

Indian media scandal

Common sense, factual reporting and ethics are all chucked out the window in the maddening race for ratings, influence and power.
21 Jan 2021

Rising food prices

FOOD inflation continues to challenge the resolve of the government to control the prices of essential kitchen items...
Updated 20 Jan 2021

Broadsheet judgement

There are plenty of skeletons in the Broadsheet cupboard and they must be brought out into the open.
20 Jan 2021

Unequal justice

IT seems no one wants to testify against former SSP Malir, Rao Anwar. At least five prosecution witnesses, all ...
20 Jan 2021

Schools reopening

THE disruptive impact of Covid-19 on education will be felt for years to come. For countries like Pakistan, where...