Families of Beirut blast victims demand UN Security Council probe into ‘massacre’

This picture shows a view of Beirut's port in the aftermath of a huge chemical explosion that disfigured the Lebanese capital, on August 14, 2020 with French Navy amphibious assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre while moored at it. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 August 2020

Families of Beirut blast victims demand UN Security Council probe into ‘massacre’

  • ‘No trust’ in Lebanon’s political or security system, says lawyer

BEIRUT: Families of the Beirut blast victims have demanded an international probe into the “massacre,” with an FBI team set to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday to join the investigation.

At least 170 people were killed and thousands were wounded following the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4.

It destroyed vast swathes of the capital, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and stoking anger about authorities’ negligence and corruption.

Lebanon’s government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned earlier this week following days of demonstrations demanding accountability for the disaster.

Lawyer Nada Abdelsater said on behalf of the victims’ families: “The victims’ families do not trust the security and political system in Lebanon and believe it to be the suspect even if it was not the only one involved in this massacre.”

She said that the only legal way for an international investigation - and international prosecution - to take place was for the UN Security Council to send an investigative and fact-finding committee to Lebanon before the crime scene was further compromised. “After that, international prosecution takes place either by referring this crime against humanity to the International Criminal Court or by establishing a special court to look into this crime.”

She read out a demand signed by thousands of affected families. It was addressed to all UN Security Council member states and she said that copies had been sent through these countries’ ambassadors to Lebanon.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Foreign dignitaries continue to flock to Lebanon following the tragedy.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale met Lebanese officials on the second day of his visit to Beirut. He will meet political, spiritual, and civil society figures on Saturday.

His trip coincides with that of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who arrived in Beirut on Thursday evening. But Zarif did not go to the areas devastated by the explosion, despite his visit being billed as an expression of solidarity with Lebanon during its time of need.

The first to visit Beirut after the explosion was from French President Emmanuel Macron, followed by Hale and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. They were welcomed by the Lebanese, who requested their help to rescue Lebanon.

Zarif visited President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Diab, and caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Charbel Wehbe.

It was reported that Iran sent a field hospital to Lebanon. But it was placed on the campus of the Lebanese University in Hadath in the southern suburbs of Beirut, far from the site of the explosion and those directly affected by it.

According to the media office of Baabda Palace, Hale said at his meeting with Aoun that President Donald Trump's directives were that the US be present to help Lebanon. Hale said that his country would not intervene in Lebanon’s internal affairs, but that it would cooperate with Lebanese authorities, as well as friends and allies in the region, to help Lebanon and its people. He stressed that the Lebanese people must be listened to and their aspirations must be fulfilled.

He also highlighted the importance of achieving reforms in Lebanon and proceeding with the fight against corruption, as this path would open the door to funding from the Cedar (CEDRE) Conference and cooperation with the IMF “because this is what Lebanon needs now.”

Aoun told Hale that the investigation into the explosion would continue, and what was required was help in learning the circumstances surrounding the arrival of the ship that was carrying the deadly ammonium nitrate.

He welcomed the arrival of the FBI team and said a number of port officials were under investigation. He said that the first task of the new government was to achieve reforms, fight corruption and follow up on a crime audit decided by the Cabinet.

Parly, after her meeting with Aoun, said that France was and would remain by Lebanon’s side. She announced that Macron had ordered the opening of an air route between Lebanon and France to provide aid.

She also conveyed Macron’s message to Aoun and said that her country had provided much aid and would provide more, especially in terms of equipment that helped to remove rubble, complete relief work, and survey the damage.

She said that 750 French soldiers would participate in these tasks and “this is evidence of France’s standing with the Lebanese people.”

French experts were assisting in the ongoing investigation, she added, and this involvement was in conjunction with sending food and building equipment. “You can rely on France,” she said, emphasizing that Macron had pledged during his Beirut trip to put all of its resources at Lebanon’s disposal.

Parly hoped that there would soon be a new government in order to proceed with the reforms the international community deemed necessary. She said that Macron would return to Lebanon on Sept. 1 to complete the dialogue he had initiated with Lebanese officials and leaders, and to learn about repairs to devastated areas.

But Zarif criticized the French initiative to facilitate the formation of a new Lebanese government.

“Lebanon’s government and people are the only ones to decide on the government, and no one should exploit the circumstances to dictate to Lebanon what to do,” he said. “I believe it is not humane to take advantage of this tragic situation to dictate to Lebanon what to do.”

 


Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

Updated 8 min 14 sec ago

Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

  • Hanan Ashrawi: Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity
  • Ashrawi: What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse

Hanan Ashrawi, a Ramallah-based member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and popular English language voice for the Palestinian cause in the US, urged American Arabs to “mobilize” and set aside their differences to strengthen the voice of the Palestinian diaspora.

During a Zoom discussion Saturday with American Arab leaders, hosted by ArabAmerica.com, Ashrawi said the US Arab community faced many of the same “very difficult conditions and obstacles” that Palestinians face around the world.

But, Ashrawi said, if they could bridge their differences and unite around common principles of justice, they could become an important voice as advocates for the Palestinian cause.

She argued it was especially important as US society becomes more polarized, but argued that Palestinians and Arabs needed to respect each other in order to unify.

“You cannot antagonize others. You can’t intimidate others. You cannot insult others. You have to work with them to find common ground,” Ashrawi urged.

“Even when you challenge. I challenge a lot. I am known to be very blunt. I don’t mince words. But at the same time I don’t insult. I don’t bring other people down. What you need to do is to be able to challenge in a way that shows you respect yourself so that others will respect you. This is extremely difficult.”

Asked about how to bridge the divisions that segment Palestinians in the US and abroad, Ashrawi urged all sides to embrace their differences, saying: “Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity.

“We are all under attack,” she said. “In the US, you are seeing the rise of identity politics … You cannot be neutral in the face of such racism … and such distortions. You must embrace your Arab identity and be proud of it. What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse.”

Ashrawi criticized the Arab League, calling it “a disaster” in confronting Israel’s atrocities and oppression. She acknowledged Palestinians could do a better job of communicating, but said that they were working under oppressive conditions and without major funding or backing.

“It’s difficult because what we do, we do voluntarily and there is no funding,” Ashrawi said.

“We have a problem, if you want me to be very frank with you. We have a problem with many in the leadership think that they know it all.”

Ashrawi also said that rivalries prevented there from being a clear and powerful strategic message.

“They don’t think anyone else has the ability to present the cause. We don’t have the funds. We don’t have the institutions … we try desperately to face a real assault,” Ashrawi said.

She assed it was important for Palestinians and Arabs in the US to engage in the political system as a unified voice.

“You need to speak out. You need to stand up and speak out. You need to challenge. You need to make the facts known, to get people to unlearn what they have learned because for a long time Israel was dictating the agenda,” she said.

“Work within a group. Work collectively; organize, use the system. Work with other people because it is an intersectional issue. You can work with women. You can work with African Americans. You can work with youth. You can work with indigenous people. You can work with others who feel marginalized, excluded and oppressed. The mentality of oppression is the same everywhere.”

She stressed: “You have natural allies in the state. You have to work together … Within the system you can influence political decisions. Hold your representatives accountable.”

Ashrawi defended the Palestine National Authority, adding they “do not make political decisions” unlike the PLO.

“It is unfair to say failure, failure, failure … they did many things. They built many institutions,” she said.

“You have to place it in context. The Palestinian leadership is working under extremely adverse conditions and circumstances. They have no powers. They have no rights like everyone else. Israel controls everything, the lands, the resources, the water, our lives.”

Ashrawi added that while Palestinians continued to push for action from the International Criminal Court, Israel and the US continued to obstruct that legal process.

“They are punishing the individuals who are in charge of the global judicial and accountability system,” Ashrawi said. “This is unconscionable.”