Top diplomats criss-crossed Beirut on Friday to supervise growing aid efforts and weigh in on Lebanon’s political future, following a deadly port explosion blamed on state corruption.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, which backs Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, met officials in the capital ahead of a speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah at 1730 GMT.
Diplomats from France, Iran and the US in Lebanon for aid efforts
His visit coincided with those of the top career diplomat of Iran’s arch-foe the United States, David Hale, and French Defence Minister Florence Parly.
Read more: Lebanon blast: Is Hezbollah’s influence to blame?
Both Hale and Parly have joined calls from the international community for a reform-oriented government that would coordinate aid flooding into the crisis-hit Mediterranean country after the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet on Monday.
“For the longer run, we cannot accept more empty promises and more dysfunctional governance,” said Hale after meeting the head of the Maronite Church, patriarch Beshara Rai.
“America is ready to support a Lebanese government that reflects and responds to the will of the people and genuinely commits to and acts for real change.”
The virus plaguing #Lebanon is none other than Hezbollah, established by #Iran's regime back in 1982.
Hassan Nasrallah & the mullahs have brought nothing but death & destruction to #Beirut & this beautiful country.
Time to evict Hezbollah from Lebanon.#حزب_الله_الارهابی pic.twitter.com/nWeKYeeHZc
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) August 10, 2020
Zarif said it was for the Lebanese to decide what government they wanted. “Others should not condition their aid on any change in Lebanon during this emergency situation.”
The Iranian foreign minister echoed Lebanese officials in rejecting an international probe into the blast, saying “Lebanon, as an independent country, must be in charge of the investigation”.
Protesters filled the streets and clashed with security forces in the days after the August 4 explosion, blaming their political leaders for the negligence they say led to the disaster that killed 171 people and wounded at least 6,500.
Read more: A quick rundown on the Lebanon explosions
The blast happened when a huge stock of hazardous materials stored in a warehouse in the heart of the capital for years exploded, despite repeated warnings of the dangers it posed.
The explosion revived a street protest movement that had first erupted in October last year against government corruption and a lingering economic crisis.
New government should reflect the will of the people
Hale and Parly met President Michel Aoun separately on Friday and met civil society representatives.
Both insisted that the new government should reflect the will of the people and implement reform as aid efforts are made for Lebanon.
Read more: Lebanon president rejects international investigation into Beirut port blast
A new government must have a “mission” and “for a limited period of time, be in charge of carrying out far-reaching reforms”, said Parly who oversaw the distribution of aid from the French helicopter carrier Tonnerre.
She said she Aoun to speed up the process of forming a government.
The UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis agreed, saying: “Time is of the essence.:
“People are suffering and can’t wait for endless deliberations,” he added after meeting Rai.
France, just like all partners of Intl Support Group for #Lebanon who met December in Paris, expecting from Lebanese authorities far-reaching ambitious reforms, especially in relation to transparency, economic and financial sustainability, anti-corruption, judicial independence https://t.co/2MtWrzXiHR
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) February 13, 2020
Diab’s successor must be named by Aoun, the target of increasing vitriol from protesters, after consultations with parliamentary blocs representing Lebanon’s longstanding political parties — the very ones that the protesters want to see gone.
Fears of ‘impunity’: calls for an international probe
Lebanese authorities named judge Fadi Sawan, who has a reputation for independence and integrity according to judicial sources, to lead investigations into the explosion.
He will not question current and former ministers on the ammonium nitrate that was stocked at the port, but they will be interrogated by a special judicial body.
Read more: Demands for regime change: protesters at war with Lebanon’s political elite
Meanwhile, public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat has filed lawsuits against 25 suspects over the Beirut blast, 19 of whom are already in custody, a judicial source said.
Those detained include Beirut Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem and Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanese Customs.
On Thursday, Hale said the US Federal Bureau of Investigations would join the probe “at the invitation” of Lebanese authorities.
France, which on Friday confirmed that two French citizens were among the 171 people killed in the blast, has opened its own enquiry.
A Letter was sent to Sec. Gen. of UN and UNSC ahead of Monday’s meeting for an international investigation into the explosion & the creation of a special fund for Lebanon and to support an independent government. Please click to sign: https://t.co/UyyV9Wxeid
— Urgent Action Fund (@UrgentAct) August 13, 2020
UN experts have called for a prompt and independent investigation into the explosion, expressing concern at the “impunity” they say Lebanese officials enjoy.
The families of the Beirut blast victims have also called for an international probe.
On Friday, rescue workers continued to recover the remains of those killed in the blast at the devastated Beirut port.
Relatives of three firefighters from the same family, who had tried to put out a fire that broke out before the blast, were told the remains of two of them had been identified by DNA analysis.
Read more: Lebanon’s judiciary grills ministers over Beirut blast
“I don’t have words to describe the fire that consumes us. Imagine getting to the point of being happy to have found the remains of two among you,” said Antonella Hitti, after learning that the remains of her brother Najib, 27, and her cousin Charbel, 22, had been identified.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk