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Lebanon ministers: Cabinet will stay to resolve crisis

This file photo shows a meeting by the Lebanese cabinet in Beirut. (Photo by AFP)

Two key Lebanese ministers insist that the cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab will remain in office to resolve the situation in the aftermath of a huge explosion that hit Beirut port.

Labor Minister Lamia Yammine and Minister of Industry Imad Hoballah made the assertion on Sunday amid apparent attempts by some foreign powers and media outlets to meddle in the country’s internal affairs following the explosion.

The Tuesday blast, caused by explosion of some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port, destroyed the country’s main grain silo, killing at least 158 people and injuring some 6,000 others.

Speaking after a ministerial meeting chaired by Diab, Yammine affirmed that the cabinet had no intention to step down.

“Our government is strong. We continue our efforts and are committed to carrying out our responsibilities towards the people,” she said. 

His remarks came after Environment Minister Damianos Kattar and Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad’s resigned on Sunday.

Also on Monday, Lebanese Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm presented her resignation from the government followed by finance minister, Ghazi Wazni. 

Hoballah separately posted a tweet, saying that some were calling for cessation of underway criminal and legal investigations into the blast.

“But we will not resign…and not succumb to pressures and blackmailing,” he said, adding the cabinet will stand by its duty to enable reforms in the country and identify those responsible for the explosion.

Thousands rallied across the capital on Saturday and Sunday, accusing authorities of incompetence as they occupied many ministries and tried to break into the parliament. Televised footage showed a fire breaking out at the entrances to the parliament square in central Beirut.

Hoballah had earlier said that those invading the ministries were trying to destroy the documents and evidence of corruption.

Foreign intervention

He also said those demanding that the government and ministers resign were in fact seeking to “lead Lebanon to nowhere” and lay the groundwork for foreign interference in Lebanon.

Last month, the minister had complained about pressure being exerted on the country by the United States. Washington, he said, is pressuring “Arab countries not to cooperate with the Lebanese government so it can impose political agendas in favor of Israel.

Israel launched two wholesale wars against Lebanon in the 2000s. The aggression was confronted successfully by the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.

Following the explosion, the US that has never brooked Hezbollah’s inclusion in the Lebanese defensive structure, backed “legitimate calls” for “reforms” in the country.

The immediate aftermath of the blast was also followed by a visit by French President Emanuel Macron in what was widely denounced as a throwback to France’s colonial rule over Lebanon and a flagrant instance of foreign meddling.

During an emergency donor conference that was called by Paris after the blast, the French president controversially called for “political” reforms in Lebanon.

The event reportedly raised pledges worth nearly $298 million (253 million euros) for humanitarian relief.

The Elysee Palace said those commitments would not be conditional on political or institutional reform, but “there were also pledges made for longer-term support that would depend on changes brought in by the authorities,” Reuters reported.

The Trump administration told the conference the US would send additional planes loaded with aid to Lebanon, but refused to specify the value.

Pope calls for unity

Pope Francis has also urged the people of Lebanon to work together in the wake of the devastating explosion to give birth to a new “free and strong” coexistence.

“Last Tuesday’s catastrophe calls everyone, beginning with the Lebanese people, to work together for the common good of this beloved country,” Francis said. He said the coexistence of cultures in the county had been made much more fragile by the blast.

Army dispels rumors

The rioting has been followed by a warning by the army against resort to non-peaceful means of protest.

It also posted a message on its Facebook page, dispelling rumors apparently aimed at enraging the public.

The army roundly rejected allegations about the existence of “suspicious tunnels” under the site of the blast. The post identified the structures lying beneath the silo as an “administrative department.”

There is a subterranean corridor running under the silo that leads to the “operations room” that controls the facility’s lifting and transport operations, it added, saying the staff were busy working in the room around the clock.

The army also strictly rejected other rumors alleging attacks by military forces against the protesters using “blanks,” saying the troops tried to treat the demonstrators peacefully.

The military, meanwhile, regretted that hopes of finding more survivors were fading. Reports have alleged that scores of people are still unaccounted for following the incident.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said there were many foreign workers and truck drivers, who were missing since the blast, saying those were assumed to be among the explosion’s casualties.

“There are a lot missing whom we cannot identify. They are truck drivers and foreign workers,” she said, adding, “No one is identifying them — this is a difficult task that takes time.”

Syria has said around 45 of the fatalities were Syrian nationals. Syrians comprise the biggest foreign labor force in Lebanon, working in construction, agriculture, and transport.

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