Lebanon patriarch reiterates demand for international probe
BEIRUT--Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai reiterated Sunday a demand for an international probe into the Beirut port explosion that killed nearly 200 people and wounded thousands more.
“The confusion in the local investigation, the conflicting information, the increasing doubts about the cause of the explosion and the negligence of those responsible are pushing us to call again for an independent international investigation,” Al-Rai said during a 40-day memorial service dedicated to the victims of the Beirut explosion.
“Justice does not contradict sovereignty and there is no sovereignty without justice, and if the authorities, for political reasons, reject the international investigation, then it is the United Nations’ duty to impose it because what happened is close to a crime against humanity,” he added.
The Maronite patriarch also stressed that “Lebanon, with its active neutrality, is a necessity in this Levantine environment,” adding that the protesters’ demands are being distorted.
He deplored attacks against protesters, saying that “the heart of Beirut is being sabotaged to prevent its prosperity.”
Al-Rai, who leads the Maronite church, plays an influential role as the leader of the largest Christian community in Lebanon, where political power is divided between its main Christian, Muslim and Druze sects.
Earlier in August, Al-Rai warned that Lebanon was facing “its biggest danger.”
“We will not allow for Lebanon to become a compromise card between nations that want to rebuild ties amongst themselves,” he said at the time, without naming any countries.
“We must start immediately with change and quickly hold early parliamentary elections without the distraction of discussing a new election law and to form a new government,” he added.
There has been a flurry of Western and regional diplomacy after the blast that pitched Lebanon into a political vacuum and fuelled anger at politicians already accused of corruption and mismanagement. A financial meltdown had already ravaged the currency and froze depositors out of their savings.
Even before the August 4 explosion, Al-Rai has made several comments that were widely interpreted as critical of both the Shia Hezbollah movement and its Christian ally, President Michel Aoun.
In an interview published in early July, the leader of the Maronite church blamed Hezbollah for closing off a vital source of aid from Western and Gulf Arab states.
“We are fundamentally a neutral country…and in the end, our salvation is in our neutrality,” he told local broadcaster LBC.
Hezbollah’s opponents say its alliance with Iran, which is engaged in a power struggle with Saudi Arabia, pushes away the mainly Sunni Gulf Arab states that once helped Lebanon.