Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announcing his government's resignation amid popular outrage over the deadly Beirut port explosion. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast

Diab’s government resigns after tragic Beirut port blast
  • Prime Minister Hassan Diab says blast was caused by endemic corruption
  • Demonstrations break out again in central Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government resigned on Monday less than a week after a massive blast in Beirut, with the prime minister telling the nation in a televised address that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

The explosion of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate at a warehouse in the Port of Beirut has killed at least 160, injured thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the capital.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office last December, was already under pressure for the lack of progress in resolving the country’s dire financial and economic situation. Last week’s huge explosion intensified accusations of corruption, incompetence, negligence against the political elite.  

Read more: Analysis: Lebanon government steps down. So what?

In his address on Monday evening Diab spoke of “a system of corruption” that was rooted in the state.

“Rather, corruption is greater than the state, and it is not possible to confront this system or get rid of corruption.”

He said that the blast was “one of the examples of corruption in Beirut” and that the scale of the tragedy was “too great to describe.”

But he also appeared to shift the blame for his government’s inability to resolve the many challenges facing the country, saying that others were responsible for the lack of progress and reform.

“Between us and change, a very thick wall is protected by a class that resists with all dirty methods in order to control the state. We fought fiercely and with honor, but this battle has no equivalence.”

Communications continued throughout Sunday night by President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to discourage some ministers from submitting their resignations after the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad on Saturday.

On Sunday, Diab linked the government's resignation to the approval of a bill to shorten parliament’s term and call for early elections. It was a response to an announcement from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for parliament to convene on Thursday to hold the government accountable for the port disaster.

The blast was one of the examples of corruption in Beirut ... the scale of the tragedy is too great to describe.

Hassan Diab, Prime minister of Lebanon

Diab called Aoun on Monday and requested that the Council of Ministers’ session that was scheduled at the Presidential Palace be transferred to government headquarters, giving the impression that all efforts had failed to prevent the government from collapsing.

Samad, as well as Environment Minister Damianos Kattar, did not attend the session. Lebanon’s Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm attended the session and announced her resignation before it began.

She said: “Given the tragedy that afflicted the nation and the pain of the Lebanese, and what we witnessed in terms of street unrest and reactions that came confirming that Lebanon entered the stage of intensive care and has become requiring assertive stances to preserve community peace and avoid losing more lives and property, I submit my resignation from the government.”

Some ministers had their resignations on standby upon entering the Cabinet session, stressing that they would resign if the government did not collectively quit.

Iran has also pressured Lebanon.

Iranian Embassy spokesman, Abbas Al-Mousawi, said in a press conference from Tehran: “The explosion should not be used as a pretext for political goals, and the cause of the explosion must be carefully investigated. The US should also lift the sanctions imposed on Lebanon.”

The leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, feared that any new government would be similar to the previous one. He added: “The aim is to go to the core of the problem, that is, parliament.”

Diab was assigned to lead the government on Dec. 19, 2019, following street protests that toppled the government of his predecessor Saad Hariri.

His government won the confidence vote of parliament on Feb. 11 with the support of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and Progressive Socialist parties did not take part in the vote.

His administration, which called itself a government of specialists, was given three months to achieve the reforms required to negotiate an IMF rescue deal to stave off the economy’s collapse.

But criticism of the government's performance soared after the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut, sparking outrage on the streets.

Public Works Minister Michel Najjar said upon leaving the last Cabinet session that he had “learned about the issue of storing ammonium nitrate in the port 24 hours before the explosion.”

Najm suggested referring the port explosion to the Judicial Council, which is the highest Lebanese judicial body. Its rulings are final.

The opposition has insisted on an international investigation into the blast due to a “lack of confidence in the local judiciary,” a demand rejected by the president.

Attorney General Judge Ghassan Oweidat on Monday continued his supervision of the investigations. There have been 19 arrests so far, including two former and current directors of customs and the director of the port.

Oweidat transferred those arrested on charges of negligence and causing harm to the Military Court to block any release, as the period of preventive detention usually does not exceed four days.

He instructed the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces to go to Cyprus to hear the testimony of the owner of the vessel that was transporting the ammonium nitrate to Mozambique but unloaded its cargo seven years ago in the Port of Beirut.

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The investigations are focusing on the pre-explosion phase, specifically between 2013 and 2020, when the ammonium nitrate was stored in Ward No.12 inside the port, and the circumstances of the explosion.

On Monday, Lebanese Army Command announced: “The rescue teams of the army, in cooperation with the Civil Defense teams, the fire brigade, and the Russian and French search and rescue teams, were able to retrieve five bodies of the victims of the blast, and the search for the remaining missing will continue.”




The funeral in Batroun of Lebanese army corporal Estephan Rouhana, who was killed in the Beirut explosion. (AFP)

 


Israel sends Palestinians over $1 billion in withheld funds

Updated 53 min 11 sec ago

Israel sends Palestinians over $1 billion in withheld funds

Israel sends Palestinians over $1 billion in withheld funds
  • The Palestinians stopped coordination with Israel in May in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of West Bank
  • Israel later put its annexation plans on hold

RAMALLAH: Israel has released more than $1 billion in funds withheld from the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian minister said Wednesday, weeks after coordination was renewed between the two sides.
“The Israeli government transfers all financial dues of the clearance to the account of the Palestinian Authority, amounting to three billion and 768 million shekels,” civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter, referring to taxes, including customs taxes, that the Jewish state collects on behalf of the PA.

In May, the Palestinians stopped coordination with Israel, with PA leader Mahmud Abbas saying it was in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Israel later put its annexation plans on hold, in return for an agreement to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, announced in August.
In halting the cooperation with Israel, the PA also stopped accepting transfer of taxes — particularly customs duties — collected by Israel on its behalf.
Earlier in the week, an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the “security cabinet approved transferring the money to the PA,” without specifying the amount.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday the Palestinians were “entitled” to the funds, expected to relieve pressure on a Palestinian economy in the grips of a severe budgetary crisis.
Officials “will take everything they are owed. They have been patient for months and it’s only a matter of a little more time to make everything clear,” Shtayyeh said.
Deprived of this income, the PA had to cut the salaries of its civil servants, at a time when the Palestinian economy had begun grappling with the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.