Lebanese diplomat urges people not to prejudge Beirut blast investigation

Lebanese diplomat urges people not to prejudge Beirut blast investigation

CHICAGO: Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, Amal Mudallali, has called on the public to give the Lebanese government time to complete its investigation into the causes of the explosion on Aug. 4 that destroyed Beirut’s port and downtown areas, and urged people to “not prejudge” the results.

President Michel Aoun has formed a government committee to investigate the blast, which killed more than 150 people, injured more than 5,000, and damaged properties as far as six miles away. It is thought it was caused by a fire that ignited 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the port for more than six years.

The government has detained a number port managers and employees. However, many people responded to with skepticism to the announcement of the investigation, and there have been calls for an independent inquiry with a focus on the government’s responsibility for the events leading up to the explosion.

“The government already has established an investigative committee, and they said that within five days they will share the results,” Mudallali said during a video conference hosted by the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington D.C. on Friday. “So let’s wait five days and see what the results are.

“I don’t know what they will come up with but let’s give them a chance and listen to what they have to say, and then we can judge. It is not easy to judge before they come up with something. The problem is there is a deficit of trust in the country and that’s affecting everything.”

The damage caused by the explosion has left more than 300,000 people homeless, including 80,000 children. There is an urgent need for medical aid, and financial assistance for recovery efforts, including the rebuilding of the damaged parts of the city.

Mudallali said that after decades of enduring one devastating crisis after another — including the civil war; the 1978 Israeli invasion, occupation and subsequent repeated conflicts; the COVID-19 pandemic; and the current financial crisis — many people have had enough and want to leave the country.

“On the port, there was a statue of a Lebanese emigrant standing and looking out to sea,” said Mudallali. “This statue is gone now. It was destroyed. That is a symbol now.

“We don’t want that to become the symbol of the Lebanese now: that they leave, that they get out. We want the Lebanese to stay. We need them to stay and rebuild, because otherwise there is no one else to do it. But helping them rebuild is not just (a case of) sending them aid and food or whatever; we have to help them build sustainably and build better, and to stay in their country and make it a good country again.”

Mudallali was appointed UN ambassador by the Aoun government in January 2018. Before that she served for five years as foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005 in a suspected Hezbollah-initiated bombing. More recently she was principal adviser on American affairs to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, and a columnist for Arab News.

Asked by AAI president, and conference host, Jim Zogby whether the Lebanese government has “the political will” to implement the economic reforms required to strengthen global confidence in Lebanon and unlock international financial aid packages, Mudallali said that she believes people are more aware now of the urgency of the requirement for reforms, and the need to start making progress on implementing them.

“I think people understand now that there is no other way out and there is no other way forward except by doing that,” she added. “I am hoping that things will be better.”

Opposition MP Paula Yacoubian said the public has no confidence in Aoun’s government, which she described as “a bunch of thieves, crooks” and a “mafia.” The official investigation is “looking for scapegoats” and “weak” members of the government to sacrifice, she added.

“They are trying to get away with (identifying) a few people who are responsible for the failure … they are starting with (the person) who is the customs manager,” said Yacoubian. “We see this many times — whenever there is a problem, they find a scapegoat.”

She predicted that the Aoun government will be forced out of power as a result of the explosion, and described the administration as an “enemy that is a cancer in the country.”

Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation into the explosion. He said the cause has not yet been determined and that government probe will look into the possibility that “external interference” was involved.


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