Lebanon, fighting for survival

The president of the country does not rule out that this explosion was caused by "negligence or missile"
The aftermath of yesterday's explosion can be seen in the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on 5 August 2020

AFP/ANWAR AMOR  -   The aftermath of yesterday's explosion can be seen in the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on 5 August 2020

The afternoon of August 4, 2020 marked a turning point in Lebanon's history. An explosion in the port of Beirut, the country's capital, killed more than 150 people and injured at least 5,000. In this scenario, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on Friday rejected an international investigation into this catastrophic explosion and said it could have been caused by "negligence or a missile".  "The reasons for the explosion have not yet been specified, there is a possibility of external intervention through a missile or bomb or any other act," he said in statements collected by local media. 

The Lebanese leader has insisted that the main objective is not just to secure food and medical supplies to Beirut, but also to rebuild it, and "we are working on a plan in this area to make the capital return better than it was".  During his speech, the President of the Republic stated that the responsibility for what happened is divided into three stages: how the explosive materials arrived at the port, how they were stored and how they were kept for several years.  

However, Michel Aoun does not rule out that the explosion was caused by other causes. "There are two other possibilities that could explain what happened and these are negligence or external interference from a missile or a bomb. I personally asked the French president to provide us with aerial photos so that we can determine whether there are planes or missiles. And if they do not have access to these images, we will request them from other countries so that we can determine if there was an external aggression or if what happened was caused by negligence," he explained. 

However, a source with access to these investigations told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the culprits in this explosion were "inaction and negligence". The US president never ruled out that this tragedy was the result of an attack, while Israel claimed from the outset to have no connection with this explosion and showed its solidarity with the Lebanese people.  Investigations to find the cause of this explosion will be carried out in various parts. Firstly, on how this explosive material entered and was stored; secondly, on whether the explosion was the result of negligence or accident and, finally, on the possibility of foreign interference, according to the president. Aoun has also announced that 20 people have been arrested as part of the investigation and that the accounts of seven people, including the port chief and the head of Customs, have been frozen. 

Meanwhile, Lebanese society, along with teams of international rescuers, continues the search for more than 100 missing persons among the ruins and rubble of Beirut port. The Council of Ministers has issued a communiqué denying the rumours that Lebanon has refused the help of some countries. "Lebanon welcomes any assistance from brotherly and friendly countries and all institutions of the world, and expresses its deep appreciation to them for standing by our side after the disaster that has struck the country," they said.

The collapse of the currency, rising inflation and the deep financial crisis in Lebanon, coupled with this explosion and the coronavirus pandemic, have exacerbated political tensions in a nation calling for responses. Lebanon - a country of some five million people and home to more than 1.5 million refugees - is one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world.  Fear and scepticism led many people to blame Hezbollah for being behind this tragedy. However, the secretary general of the Lebanese Hezbollah party, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, on Friday denied any link with the explosive material stored in the port of Beirut. 

The international community continues its efforts to help Lebanon rebuild from its ashes. Thus, the president of the United States, Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron have decided to coordinate to bring immediate aid to this nation, devastated by an explosion in the port of the capital. According to the information available to the EFE news agency, this Thursday, the head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spoke with the president of Lebanon and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces to inform them of the shipment of three C-130-type cargo planes with U.S. aid, which included food, water and medical supplies. The French president, for his part, visited Lebanon on Wednesday and announced a conference to support the country, in addition to demanding reforms from Lebanese leaders. "Beyond the explosion (...) today there is a political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has lasted several months, several years, and this implies strong political initiatives," Macron said in a meeting with his counterpart Michel Aoun. 

The investigation to find the origin of this tragedy, whose shockwave reached several surrounding neighborhoods causing material losses of between 3 and 5 billion dollars, according to local authorities, continues. Local authorities on Friday placed the director general of the country's customs department under arrest for his possible responsibility in the deflagration of more than 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate. The investigation includes 20 people, according to the country's president, who explained that "none of them can be arrested and imprisoned before the investigation. The health minister raised the number of deaths from the disaster to 154 on Friday, while the number of injured rose to 5,000, of whom 120 are seriously injured and at least 20% had to be hospitalised.