US, UK warn against escalating sectarianism in Lebanon

Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Updated 07 August 2019

US, UK warn against escalating sectarianism in Lebanon

  • US supports a fair and transparent judicial review free of any political influence

BEIRUT: The US Embassy in Lebanon warned that “any attempt to exploit the tragic incident that took place in Kabreshmoun on June 30 to promote political objectives must be rejected.”

The statement comes during Lebanon’s escalating political crisis, which has been ongoing for more than two months. 

The crisis has peaked during the last 48 hours, where efforts aimed at reaching a political consensus on the judicial measures for the Kabreshmoun shooting have failed.

There was open confrontation between the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), with the PSP including the Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the judiciary in its accusations.

“The US supports a fair and transparent judicial review free of any political influence. We clearly expressed to the Lebanese authorities that they are expected to handle the incident in a manner that achieves justice without inciting sectarian and regional conflicts with political backgrounds,” said the US Embassy.

“Lebanon’s stability is a priority to us,” said Britain’s Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling as he visited Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. 

“We urge everyone to focus on economic development at this stage. The adoption of the state budget was an important first step but still needs a lot of work,” Rampling added.

The shooting took place when the head of the FPM, Gebran Bassil, visited the site of massacres between Christians and Druze during the civil war.

Supporters of the PSP staged protests to prevent the visit, triggering a shootout after the arrival of the minister of the displaced, Saleh Al-Gharib. Two of his bodyguards were killed.

Minister Al-Gharib is a member of the PSP’s rival party and an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The incident received significant political and judicial attention, which has paralyzed the government for over a month. The PSP accused the FPM of wanting to eliminate it by pressuring the military judiciary to manipulate the investigation.

Aoun affirmed his “commitment to the judiciary, which has the authority to act firmly and punish according to the laws,” as he received a youth delegation on Wednesday.

Berri said that he “will not allow anything that could divide the Lebanese people,” and that “political, security and financial stability is required from everyone, as international financial institutions are concerned about Lebanon’s situation.

“A complete and comprehensive reconciliation is necessary to hold government sessions. There is no need for panic as it will vanish with the government’s first session.” 

An international report on Lebanon’s financial classification is expected to be issued on Aug. 23, with the Lebanese Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh rejecting suggestions that the country is bankrupt.

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 15 min 8 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.