Nasrallah, Aoun reject international investigation of Beirut blast

Coordination seen in stances of president and Hezbollah chief, which were at odd with suggestions of Lebanese politicians and Macron.
Saturday 08/08/2020
Lebanese army soldiers salute during the funeral procession, in Numeiriyeh village, south Lebanon, August 7, of an army lieutenant who was killed by Tuesday’s explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut. (AP)
Lebanese army soldiers salute during the funeral procession, in Numeiriyeh village, south Lebanon, August 7, of an army lieutenant who was killed by Tuesday’s explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut. (AP)

BEIRUT – After Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, Lebanese political sources revealed that there was perfect coordination between him and President Michel Aoun, with respect to their refusal to have an international committee formed to investigate the disaster that befell Beirut last Tuesday.

The sources pointed out that such a committee would be bound to find out and reveal the truth about the huge blast that has caused the destruction of a part of the Lebanese capital, in addition to a high number of casualties and the displacement of about 300 thousand people whose homes were severely damaged.

A few hours before Nasrallah’s speech, Friday, Aoun met at Baabda Palace with a group of journalists and argued that having an international investigation would be “a waste of time” since it would delay justice from being rendered, and that justice delayed is not justice.

For his part, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah was keen in his speech to demand a Lebanese investigation committee, preferably from the army, which he said enjoys everybody’s trust. His insistence on resorting to the Lebanese army appeared to be an attempt to embarrass Lebanese politicians, led by former prime ministers, Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora, Tamam Salam and Najib Mikati, in addition to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Christian party leaders such as Sami Gemayel and Samir Geagea, all of whom called for an international investigation committee and for sealing the location of the explosion to avoid any tampering with the evidence.

Lebanese listen to a televised speech of General Secretary of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah at a cafe in Beirut. (DPA)
Lebanese listen to a televised speech of General Secretary of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah at a cafe in Beirut. (DPA)

Hassan Nasrallah was also keen to deny the presence of any weapons or explosive materials belonging to Hezbollah in the port of Beirut, but ordinary Lebanese citizens know through political sources that Hezbollah has its own hangars and warehouses in the port and that the Lebanese authorities are prohibited from intercepting any shipments and cargo destined for the party under the pretext of “protecting the security of the resistance.”

A Lebanese politician commented sarcastically that the pinnacle of ridicule in Nasrallah’s speech was when he said, “We know more about what is happening at Haifa port than we know about Beirut port.”

The political sources further added that Aoun’s and Nasrallah’s joint rejection of an international investigation committee does not only signal their objection to the position taken by most Lebanese politicians, but also expresses their reservations about French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal. This week, Macron called from Beirut for forming an international investigation committee.

One noteworthy aspect of Nasrallah’s speech was that he did not mention Israel at all nor did he hint at the rumour circulating that the explosions at the port were caused by an Israeli strike on Hezbollah’s warehouses there.

Hassan Nasrallah completely ignored that assumption at a time when the Lebanese authorities prevented European relief teams from approaching the site of the explosion in the Beirut port, in particular a Dutch rescue team who had with it dogs trained to detect survivors under the rubble. Political sources attributed this measure to the authorities’ fear that an independent party might discover and reveal dangerous facts related to the nature of the explosion that destroyed large parts of Beirut.

Nasrallah said that the truth behind the explosion was supposed to emerge quickly, and that it was an exceptional event in the modern history of Lebanon that requires calm and internal unity, and that it should not be politicized.

For his part, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt ruled out that Hezbollah had no knowledge of the dangerous cargo at the port, and considered that “there is an ambiguous relationship between the party and the Lebanese state authorities,” referring to the possibility of a cover-up of the explosion.

Nasrallah’s position came shortly after President Michel Aoun considered that the request for an international investigation into the tragedy that struck Lebanon could mean “loss of the truth.”

Aoun refused to conduct an international investigation into the explosion, which killed 154 people, injured more than 5,000 others, and destroyed a large part of the capital.

The Lebanese President said during a meeting with journalists at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut, “There are two possibilities for what happened, either it was a result of negligence or of external intervention by means of a missile or a bomb,” noting that he had asked Macron “to provide us with aerial photos so that we can determine if there were any aircraft in the air or missiles.”

On Friday, Aoun also spoke of the necessity of revising the existing political system in Lebanon because it impedes the achievement of reforms. He told reporters: “We are facing changes and re-examining our system which is based on consent after it became clear that it is paralysed and that decisions that can be implemented quickly cannot be taken.”

The Lebanese system is based on political and sectarian quotas. It is difficult for the government to take any decision unless there is consensus.

Hezbollah, an ally of Michel Aoun, is currently considered the most influential political force in Lebanon. It is difficult to pass any decision without its prior approval.

The Lebanese judicial authorities are investigating the explosion, which authorities said was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in storage for six years in Warehouse 12 at the port.

A judicial source stated that twelve people are being detained for the purposes of the investigation, including port officials, customs officers and engineers. On Friday, investigators questioned and then ordered the detention of the head of the port, Hassan Koraytem, the country’s customs chief, Badri Daher, and Daher’s predecessor.

The Banque du Liban instructed banks to freeze the accounts of at least seven port officials and employees, and a judicial order was issued banning them from travelling.