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Hezbollah’s explosives a threat to international peace and security

Hezbollah’s explosives a threat to international peace and security

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Lebanon last week suffered horrific and tragic scenes that shook the consciousness of humankind across the world. The horrendous explosion at Beirut port on Tuesday killed more than 150 people and wounded 5,000 others. At least 300,000 people were displaced, while dozens are still missing, according to a preliminary toll. The explosion and its fallout had disastrous consequences, impacting homes, places of worship and hospitals not just in the capital itself, but across approximately half of the country.

These disastrous consequences were not confined to casualties, but to massive financial losses, which the governor of Beirut Marwan Abboud estimated initially at between $3 and $5 billion. This catastrophe resulted in Beirut being declared a disaster zone, with the scenes reminiscent of the terrifying nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose 75th anniversaries were — with grim irony — marked in the following days, and of the ghost town scenes caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

Different explanations for the Beirut port explosion have emerged, from claims that Israel was behind it in an effort to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring new weapons to claims that the searing summer temperatures had ignited fires that triggered the catastrophic detonation of the highly volatile explosives stored there. In addition, it has been claimed by some that the explosion was a terrorist act. However, experts have reserved their opinions while investigations are ongoing. Interestingly, Hezbollah did not accuse or target Israel in the statement it issued in the aftermath of the explosion, since it is fully aware that it would have to bear the cost of any Israeli response.

The tragic blast resulted from the ignition of approximately 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate — widely used by Hezbollah to make explosives — that had been stored in the port since 2014. This put Hezbollah firmly in the dock, making it liable for the explosion, particularly given its long history of storing and using ammonium nitrate worldwide. For example, in 2012, Thailand arrested an individual affiliated with Hezbollah over the possession of 290 liters of ammonium nitrate. In 2015, Cyprus seized 420 boxes of ammonium nitrate belonging to Hezbollah. In the same year, Kuwait arrested three people affiliated with Hezbollah on charges of storing more than 40,000 pounds of the same substance. The UK has also arrested members of the movement for storing 3.3 tons of ammonium nitrate in London. Germany, which in April classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, revealed that one of the reasons behind this move was its storing of ammonium nitrate in a depot in southern Germany.

Along with the aforementioned evidence proving Hezbollah’s widespread possession of ammonium nitrate, the movement’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah — in video footage from 2016 circulated by social media users following last week’s blast — hinted at the possibility of blowing up containers full of the explosive in the Israeli port of Haifa. In the video, Nasrallah boasts: “Some of our missiles plus some ammonium containers at Haifa port equal a nuclear bomb.”

The Beirut explosion will inevitably cast a dark shadow over Lebanon’s future.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Hezbollah has depended on Beirut port to run its black economy. Despite its leaders’ denials, several reports indicate that most of the weapons coming to it from Iran pass through the port. US sources also claim that the port is under the movement’s unofficial control, noting that it maintains explosive materials there. It is also known that this area of Beirut is under Hezbollah’s direct control.

Last week’s explosion will inevitably cast a dark shadow over Lebanon’s future and exacerbate the economic and political crises already afflicting it. Hezbollah’s policies, its possession of vast arsenals of weapons at home, and its misadventures regionally and globally are considered to be the primary causes of the country’s domestic crises.

At the economic level, Lebanon’s fragile and inefficient economy will experience further pressures due to the tremendous cost of reconstructing the capital. This comes at a time when the country is already suffering from a financial crisis that has sparked massive protests. Adding to these woes, Lebanon will lose its financial revenues from the port, which is considered the country’s most important economic artery. The fallout from the explosion will also impact public health over the coming months, with the disastrous environmental ramifications expected to be long-term as Beirut’s air becomes more polluted.

At the political level, fragmentation between the pro-Hezbollah March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Alliance, which rejects the movement’s activities, will grow. This comes as relations between the two alliances have been at an impasse since Washington’s June activation of the Caesar Act targeting Hezbollah’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria. This law also sanctions Assad’s associates, including Hezbollah. The indications of such an impasse are apparent from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s comments in the aftermath of the explosion. He said: “They killed Lebanon yesterday. The explosion will also increase the likelihood of igniting protests against the movement, which could reshuffle the cards.”

The ramifications of the disaster, which many military analysts have equated to what is seen in the aftermath of a destructive war, are revealing an outcome long predicted by many — namely that, when countries accept the existence of out-of-control militias on their soil, which operate beyond the writ of the state, they will inevitably turn into failed states or even disaster zones. The classification of Beirut, once the lustrous cosmopolitan pearl of the Mediterranean, as a disaster zone further demonstrates the terrible truth of this prediction.

Countries that allow such anarchy to go unchecked will inevitably bear the consequences of the presence of armed militias working beyond the state’s writ. This latest event has also left Iraq, which is afflicted by similar militia rule, urgently needing to control the similarly volatile explosive materials stored in the depots of the Iranian regime-aligned Popular Mobilization Units in order to maintain a semblance of security and stability.

Ultimately, the enormity of last week’s explosion in Beirut highlighted the need for the international community and the UN, along with its agencies, to take serious action to cease the devastating schemes of Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah. This can be done by cooperating with countries both inside and outside the Middle East that oppose the Iranian regime’s schemes. If this does not happen, nightmarish scenes like those seen in Beirut and elsewhere at the hands of Iran and its militias will be seen globally, becoming the gruesome hallmark of the 21st century.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Alexandra Najjar: The face of Beirut’s man-made tragedy 

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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. Reuters
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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. Reuters
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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. Reuters
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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. Reuters
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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. (Reuters)
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Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 August 2020

Alexandra Najjar: The face of Beirut’s man-made tragedy 

  • Death of three-year-old from injuries caused by August 4 explosions has brought grieving nation together
  • Outpouring of online tributes to Alexandra testified to the despair and anguish of Lebanese across the world

LONDON: In an ideal world, Alexandra Najjar should have been able to enjoy the rest of a pleasant Mediterranean summer with her family. Once the coronavirus outbreak in Lebanon had been tamed, she should have been able to experience her first day of school.

She would have made many new friends and begun to absorb all the knowledge that a three-year-old is capable of when they first enter kindergarten.

And as the days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years, Alexandra’s parents would have watched her grow into a young girl, enjoy life, dream big and perhaps achieve greatness in some field.

Alas, in the harsh real world of crisis-wracked Lebanon, the dreams of Alexandra’s parents will remain just that.

Some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate haphazardly stored in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut exploded as Alexandra was playing with a friend on the evening of August 4, leaving her severely injured.

Shockwaves from that blast devastated Beirut, leaving its streets blanketed in debris and shards of glass — and many of its residents caked in grey dust and crimson-red blood.




Photos and videos of Alexandra were shared widely on social media and tributes poured in online. (Reuters )

Three days later, after being in a critical condition in a hospital and suffering internal bleeding in her brain, Alexandra succumbed to her wounds.

“You killed us in our own home, in a place where I thought I could leave my family, protect my family ... where if crimes are happening and we don’t have anything in this country, then at least we have our home where we can be safe,” said Paul Najjar, Alexandra’s grief-stricken father, in a TV interview on Saturday evening, assailing Lebanon’s leaders.

“What you did is a crime at the cost of our family that is so very united and this for me, at the most, is a crime at the cost of love because if there’s anything I should believe in, it’s this  — which was the foundation of our family, it still is and will continue to be so.”

As the pain of the Najjar family’s loss sank in, photos and videos of Alexandra — or “Lexou,” the name by which parents called her — began to be shared widely via social media platforms and WhatsApp groups, both in Lebanon and outside it.

Tributes poured in online, testifying to the despair and anguish Lebanese across the world felt in the aftermath of the explosions. Alexandra’s untimely death had put a human face on Beirut’s horrible tragedy.

 

In one of the pictures, Alexandra is seen sitting atop her father’s shoulders as he took part in a march during last year’s October 17 “revolution,” demanding an end to Lebanon’s twin bane of corruption and sectarianism.

The protesters were calling for a better world for all Lebanese — and a brighter future for Alexandra.

The captions accompanying the photos point to the impact of the Najjar family’s tragedy on the Lebanese people and diaspora.

“This is a photo of Alexandra protesting for a better Lebanon to remove the corrupt government and no one listened and now she’s in heaven,” former Miss USA Rima Fakih wrote below a post on Instagram.

Another caption says: “Alexandra, you are in each of our hearts and prayers today and always. Your death will not be in vain ... we will make sure of it!”

Alexandra was one of the youngest victims of the Beirut explosions, whose human cost so far includes 150 deaths, nearly 6,000 injured and another 300,000 homeless.

After citizens and residents independently organized and cleaned up the streets and homes of the areas most affected by the blast’s impact, shock turned to anger.

 

 

“My message to the Lebanese is a message of unity,” Paul Najjar said in the interview. “They killed us — they didn’t kill Christians or Muslims or politically-affiliated or not politically-affiliated. There is none of this anymore — a message to all the people who are still following these people.

“Please, enough. We need to stand together. We need to stand united so that we can make the change, so we can revolt for the sake of Alexandra and every child and every family that wants to live in this country like we had hope for.”

Paul Najjar said he and his wife returned to Lebanon and set up a company in an effort to help the country.

“We had hope that we would help the country. We also hoped that Alixou would grow up in Lebanon,” he said.

On Saturday, thousands of Lebanese made their way to Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square demanding accountability for the explosions, and the resignation of all government officials. Many of them carried nooses, which they used for symbolic hangings of Lebanon’s principal political actors, including Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Future Movement leader and former PM Saad Hariri, and Lebanese President Michel Aoun among many others.

The government responded by deploying riot police and the army, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to subdue similar protests in front of the parliament in Riad Al-Solh Square and the nearby Beirut Souks.

Lebanese Red Cross and the Islamic Emergency and Relief Corps figures showed that the clashes left 728 more Lebanese injured, of whom 153 were taken to hospital and 575 treated on site.

“For your information, rubber bullets could kill and cause permanent damage. If necessary, it should be aimed at legs only. Yesterday, and in one hospital, there were seven open surgical eyes and a ruptured abdominal spleen,” Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, a former Minister of Health, said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, little light has been shed by the government on why such a huge quantity of a highly combustible chemical was stored next to the Beirut Port Silos building after being confiscated from a Russian-leased ship six years ago.

“The incident might be a result of negligence or external intervention through a missile or a bomb,” President Michel Aoun said on Friday.

Whatever the truth, UNICEF has warned that almost 80,000 of those displaced by the “incident” are children whose families are in desperate need of support. 

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One children’s hospital in the Karantina area, which had a specialized unit treating critical newborns, was destroyed.

Across Beirut, at least 12 primary health care facilities, maternal, immunization and newborn centers have been damaged, disrupting services for nearly 120,000 people.

Against this grim backdrop, Paul Najjar and his wife are hoping that Alexandra’s death will not be in vain but will have a positive impact when the nation rebuilds itself.

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Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Saad Hariri begins consultations with MPs to form Lebanon government

Updated 22 October 2020

Saad Hariri begins consultations with MPs to form Lebanon government

  • Hariri’s assignment led to a significant drop in the dollar’s ​​exchange rate on the black market
  • The politician announced that he would focus on forming a government quickly “because time is running out”

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun assigned on Thursday former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to form the country’s next government, after 65 members of Parliament named Hariri during binding parliamentary consultations.

Hariri’s assignment led to a significant drop in the dollar’s ​​exchange rate on the black market to 6,800-6,900 Lebanese pounds.

Addressing the people of Lebanon from the Baabda Palace, Hariri stressed that he would “form a government of non-partisan technocrats to implement the economic, financial, and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative. The parliamentary blocs pledged to support the government in the implementation of this initiative.”

Hariri said: “I am determined to keep my promise for the people to stop the collapse that threatens our economy and rebuild what has been destroyed by the horrible Beirut port blast.”

A gigantic explosion in August in Beirut’s port, caused by chemicals stored in a warehouse there, has compounded the economic crises. The blast decimated the capital, killing nearly 200 people, and injured over 6,000.

The explosion prompted France, a longtime ally and Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, to push for a new political order in Lebanon. Paris launched what came to be known as the French initiative, designed to pressure rival politicians into reaching an agreement on a government empowered to introduce wide-ranging economic reforms. The international community has said it will not help Lebanon financially before reforms are implemented.

Hariri announced that he would focus on forming a government quickly “because time is running out, and this is the last opportunity.”

He said non-binding parliamentary consultations would start on Friday afternoon to hear the opinions of the MPs.

Hariri made phone calls to former premiers Salim Hoss, Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Tammam Salam, and Hassan Diab. And he declared that telephone consultations with them were sufficient for “security-related reasons.”

The Free Patriotic Movement bloc, headed by Gebran Bassil, did not name Hariri during the parliamentary consultations.

Bassil insisted in a statement: “After the nomination of Hariri, we expect a techno-political government.”

Parliament’s Speaker Nabih Berri tried to mitigate the impact of the disagreement between Hariri and Bassil regarding the forming of the next government. Berri said after meeting with Aoun: “The atmosphere is positive between Aoun and Hariri, and there will be a rapprochement between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement.”

The Future Movement’s supporters in Tripoli received Hariri’s reassignment by firing weapons into the air, damaging private property and injuring several people.

It said in a statement: “A new chapter has begun, to rescue the country, stop the collapse, and rebuild what was destroyed in the Beirut port explosion. In view of this, we call on the supporters of the movement in all regions to maintain the same spirit as they follow what happens after the assignment and to abide by the law.”

Nassib Ghobril, head of the Economic Research and Analysis Department at Byblos Bank, said: “The assignment is the first step but it is not sufficient as there is no confidence on the citizens’ part.

“The markets and the private sector, as well as citizens, want to see practical measures on the ground to be assured that there is resoluteness in addressing the country’s economic, financial, monetary, and living situations,” he added.

Syndicate of Money Changers Head Mahmoud Murad said: “Things are developing rapidly. The dollar’s exchange rate has fallen below 7,000 Lebanese pounds after it ranged between 7,000 and 8,000 Lebanese pounds for months, and we do not know how further it would drop.”

He added: “Some people are currently selling their saved dollars, while others want to buy dollars. No one knows the ceiling of this activity — it depends on political developments and how they reflect on the public.”

Addressing the Lebanese people, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said: “Do not count on miracles, foreign elections or external donors — the rescue must start in Lebanon, by Lebanon.”

He said in a tweet after the assignment of Hariri: “No country, especially Lebanon, in a catastrophic free fall can survive endlessly without an effective pro-reform government as the only way to start rescuing the country and its people from further collapse, from chaos and extremism.”

He added: “It is the traditional political forces that have again put on themselves to choose the way forward, regardless of their numerous failures in the past and deep skepticism about the future. It is up to them to help Saad Hariri, the designated PM, to rapidly create an empowered, action-oriented government, to start delivering the well-known reforms.”

On the eve of the binding parliamentary consultations, Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s minister of Europe and foreign affairs, urged Lebanon to “speed up” the formation of the government.

“The later we are, the further the boat sinks,” he told the French Senate’s Committee for Foreign Affairs. “If Lebanon does not implement the required reforms, the country itself is in danger of collapse, and the Lebanese people cannot be the victim of the negligence and incompetence of their leaders. Long-standing disputes and quotas according to affiliations and sects have returned, but the current situation does not allow that.”

There were some surprises during the binding parliamentary consultations. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party bloc named Hariri to head the government, despite the fact that the party had previously decided not to name Hariri.

The Hezbollah bloc refrained from naming Hariri. The head of the bloc, Mohammad Raad, said: “Refraining from naming anyone may contribute to maintaining a positive atmosphere that broadens the required understanding.” 

This was in reference to the fact that Hezbollah stands with its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, which did not name Hariri. The leadership and MPs of Hezbollah had previously announced their desire for Hariri’s return to head the government.

MPs Jihad Samad and Adnan Trabelsi, meanwhile, deviated from the decision of the Consultative Meeting bloc and named Hariri. MP Nohad Machnouk, too, named Hariri despite the political dispute between the two. Machnouk had been expected to either refuse to name Hariri or be absent from the consultation.

MP Jean Talouzian deviated from the decision of the Lebanese Forces bloc and also named Hariri. The bloc did not name anyone to head the government despite its commitment to the French initiative.