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Lebanese President Rejects Int’l Probe in Beirut Blast to ‘Protect Country’s Sovereignty’

Lebanese President Rejects Int’l Probe in Beirut Blast to ‘Protect Country’s Sovereignty’

Saturday, 8 August, 2020 - 06:00
A Lebanese Red Cross member walks among the debris from damaged buildings following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced Friday his rejection of an international investigation into the Beirut port blast, sparking a new round of political disputes in the beleaguered country that has been devastated by the explosion.

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.

Aoun also denied that he had discussed an international probe with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had paid a visit to Lebanon on Thursday in wake of the blast. Macron also met with the main political leaders during his trip.

Lebanon is already divided between parties that support an international probe and those who reject it. The first camp includes the Mustaqbal Movement, led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Lebanese Forces, led by Samir Geagea, Progressive Socialist Party, led by Walid Jumblatt, and the Kataeb party, led by Sami Gemayel. The other camp includes the Free Patriotic Movement, which was founded by Aoun and now headed by his son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil, and the Hezbollah party.

Sources informed on the talks Macron held with top politicians on Thursday said the officials who were part of what was known as the March 14 alliance all advocated an international probe, explaining that Lebanon does not have an effective state.

Geagea urged Macron to spearhead efforts to launch such a probe, the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The Lebanese are banking on France to meet such a demand, he was quoted as saying.

Head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammed Raad, who was also present at the meeting, said the party opposes such a probe because it could be “breached” by Israel.

Speaking to reporters at the Baabda presidential palace, Aoun vowed that justice will prevail in the Beirut blast, saying minor and major officials will appear in court for their role.

On the international investigation, he said: “If we cannot govern ourselves, then no one can. Lebanon’s sovereignty will not be undermined during my term.”

He said attention is being focused on how the explosive ammonium nitrate entered Beirut port and how it was stored there for six years while official warnings over it were ignored.

He did not rule out an attack sparking the blast, revealing that he had requested from Macron aerial footage, if available, of the site to determine whether it was caused by an attack or negligence.

On Macron’s call for the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon, Aoun said: “The necessary conditions for this must be available. We cannot call for such a cabinet and reach the same division and stalemate witnessed by such governments.”

The president’s remarks are signs of imminent political disputes that will aggravate the already tense situation in the country, said political sources.

A Lebanese Forces source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the party supports an international investigation because it does not trust any local probe. “How can local forces that are responsible for storing and neglecting the dangerous material also carry out the probe? Will they indict themselves?”

“The truth cannot be uncovered due to the rampant corruption in Lebanon and therefore, the truth cannot be reached by the Lebanese authorities,” it continued. “A serious and transparent probe can only take place through international sides.”

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