Beirut blast: MPs sceptical government can deliver justice and accountability

Blame game underway in Beirut and one parliamentarian says he has no confidence in any domestic investigation

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Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed to bring the full force of the law against those responsible for Tuesday night’s explosion but members of parliament have already said they have no faith in a domestic investigation.

A blame game started in Beirut barely hours the explosion at the port on Tuesday, one of the single most devastating incidents in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Diab said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that should not have been at a warehouse in the port caused the explosion, which killed at least 100 people and damaged large parts of Beirut.

The carnage “will not pass without accountability,"  he said on TV. "Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price."

After a meeting of the Higher Defence Council, Mr Diab said Cabinet would meet on Wednesday and a committee would be agreed to deliver an early investigation within five days.

Justice Minister Marie-­Claude Najm said she ordered a “primary investigations to reveal responsibility,” as she was “following the horrific developments”.

Beirut before and after explosion

Beirut before and after explosion

Former prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement parliament group released a statement calling for an international investigation.

The group said it considered "the catastrophe that has befallen to be the size of a destructive war, larger than all civil wars and Israeli wars on Lebanon".

“There are serious suspicions surrounding the explosion, its timing, conditions and location, how it occurred and the inflammable material that caused it … it will not be possible to resolve doubts with ordinary security and judicial measures," it said.

Future Movement MP Hadi Hobeich elaborated on the bloc’s statement, saying they are in the process of setting a parliamentary committee to begin investigating the incident and they will be calling for international assistance.

"There is obvious negligence and those involved have got to for forwarded to justice," Mr Hobeich told The National. He pointed out that there are politicians, cabinet officials and members of a security body involved and this needs to be questioned.

The group was not alone in casting doubt on the government's ability to achieve justice. A senior Lebanese politician who is not represented in government blasted the administration and other political factions.

"The government will not do anything to hold those responsible. We are seeing an accumulation of decades of state collapse," the legislator told The National.

He also said that even if political players buried their differences now, long-term aid to limit the economic collapse would not be forthcoming because that is contingent on needed reforms they remain unwilling to pass.

“We are unable to do it and we do not want to do it,” he said, referring to structural reforms demanded by possible donors and international financial institutions. “We will get medicine and field hospitals. But such a government will not receive structural help.”

Lebanese parliamentarian Hadi Abou Hassan, a member of the opposition Progressive Socialist Party, said it was impossible to hold those responsible accountable under a “corrupt political system that has not produced anything except tragedies and disasters”.

“There is no trust in domestic investigation committees and the criminal, stupid authorities,” he said.

The huge explosion wounded thousands across the Lebanese capital. It was felt as far away as the island of Cyprus.

Even politicians not opposed to the Hezbollah backed government cast doubt on its ability to deliver.

Qassem Hashem, a Baath party MP and parliamentary ally of Speaker Nabih Berri, said the government was “not up to dealing with the tragedy”.

“Sadly, the government does not know how to deal with substances that are so dangerous,” he said. “If it did not know what those hangers contained that makes what befell the homeland even worse.”