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)

 


Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of Beirut: Reports

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of  Beirut: Reports
Updated 3 min ago

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of Beirut: Reports

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of  Beirut: Reports

LONDON: Hezbollah official Ali Barakat has been killed in clashes in Khalde, a town south of Beirut on Sunday, Lebanese media reported. 
At least five people were killed in an ambush on Shi'ite mourners in the town, a day after a revenge killing of a member of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, a senior source in the group said.
The five were shot in Khaldeh, where sectarian tensions have long flared between its mixed Shi'ite and Sunni residents.
A statement from Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes.


Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
  • The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies
  • Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers

CAIRO: Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid called on the personnel and officers from one of the southern region’s military units to be “vigilant and combat-ready to carry out the tasks of securing the country’s borders.”

During a meeting with personnel from the unit, Farid conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for their efforts and sacrifices in the fight to maintain the security of the country’s southern border against smuggling, illegal immigration and hostilities.

The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies, praising their combat readiness and high morale.

Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers to enable them to make quick decisions under various circumstances.

He inspected the unit’s procedures for raising combat efficiency, beginning with the presentation of a report that included the technical and administrative status of the unit following improvements to weapons and other areas.


Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
Updated 27 min 40 sec ago

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on an oil tanker in the Sea of Oman after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
Updated 01 August 2021

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
  • It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants
  • Migrant boat departures have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean: Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.


Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas
Updated 01 August 2021

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

GAZA: Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as chief of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, two Palestinian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
Haniyeh has led Hamas since 2017.