LONDON: Leading Lebanese opposition figure Bahaa Hariri, son of former prime minister Rafiq, has blamed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s political elite for the devastating explosion in Beirut that killed more than 150 people and injured thousands on Tuesday.
Hariri said earlier this week that ordinary Lebanese people knew that the Iran-aligned group controlled Beirut’s port, the site of the explosion, and the city’s airport.
He added it was “inconceivable” that authorities did not know that deadly ammonium nitrate, which is believed to have caused the huge blast, was stored in a warehouse at the port.
Hariri said: “The question we have to ask is how come for six years this combustible material was allowed to remain in the middle of this city of 2 million people? It is crystal clear Hezbollah are in charge of the port and the warehouse where the ammonium nitrate was stored. Nothing goes in and out of the port or the airport without them knowing. Nothing. Their decision to put it there in the middle of a city of two million people was an utter disaster. And now we have a destroyed city center.”
The explosion left at least 158 people dead, a further 5,000 wounded, with dozens more missing and 300,000 left homeless, as well as causing an estimated $15 billion worth of damage.
A judge in the investigation into the explosion confirmed that 16 port employees had been arrested. He said 18 people had been questioned, including port and customs officials, according to the state news agency.
Lebanese people, who took to the streets on Saturday in protest, blame a political elite they say is rife with corruption and incompetence and has pushed the country into economic despair.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut this week and offered his country's support for the Lebanese people and he warned the country would “continue to sink” unless there was deep political reform in Lebanon.
Hariri is also one of a growing number of politicians in Lebanon calling for an international investigation into the tragedy at the port.
“I cannot speculate as to the exact events at the port that day, but Hezbollah is a known terrorist organisation and I think the more destruction they inflict the better off they are,” he said. “Their symbiotic relationship with the government gives them full confidence to do what they want.
“We need an urgent international investigation into this tragedy. You can't trust the government or Hezbollah to carry out a proper investigation. We must have an external one and fast.
“There is a bankrupt relationship between these two warlords and they have to go. History shows warlords don't grow a country, they abuse them. We need to take Lebanon from a country to a nation,” he said.
Hariri’s comments on Hezbollah come after Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, warned in 2019 that Iranian forces were exploiting the port to help arm Hezbollah.
Speaking to the UN Security Council last year, Danon said: “Israel found that Iran and the Quds Force have begun to advance the exploitation of civilian maritime channels, and specifically the Port of Beirut. The Port of Beirut is now the Port of Hezbollah.”
An investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was supposed to announce its judgment on Friday, but the verdict has been postponed until Aug. 18.
Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organisation by many countries, including the US and UK, and in January the latter also acknowledged Hezbollah's political wing as part of the terrorist group as well as its military wing.