Lebanese President Michel Aoun used his address to the 2020 U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday to thank the international community for assisting Lebanon after an explosion rocked Beirut, but also insisted on his country’s sovereignty.
He was notably cool toward calls for an independent international investigation of the explosion.
Aoun thanked the United Nations for moral support, food, and medicine after the stunning explosion that left the Port of Beirut in ruins last month.
“This great solidarity made our people feel they are not alone, but rather have in this world brothers and sisters in humanity, who did not hesitate to support us,” he said.
With this support, he predicted Beirut would rise from its ruins, “as it has done over and over again, throughout history.”
Aoun said the explosion “left a deep scar on the Lebanese conscience,” inflicting both horrific injuries and staggering economic damage to the city. Beirut’s bustling port was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless, driving up the city’s already dismaying poverty rate.
Aoun suggested the best approach to restoring the city might be to partition it into development zones and let each foreign benefactor decide which zone it will help rebuild — an implicit acknowledgment that Lebanon’s fractious, factional, deeply corrupt central government is not capable of coordinating a massive international reconstruction effort.
As for the still-enigmatic cause of the monster explosion, Aoun said “all of Lebanon wants to know the truth and to see justice done.” He said a criminal investigation headed by Lebanon’s highest judicial council is still underway, with limited assistance provided on request from outside entities. He gave little in the way of a status update on the case, beyond saying that Lebanese investigators are “still awaiting information” about the mysterious cargo ship believed to have brought a massive stockpile of dangerous ammonium nitrate to the Port of Beirut years ago.
Aoun stressed that the devastation from the Beirut blast makes it even more urgent to arrange for the million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon to return to their country. He said the cost of supporting those refugees has become unbearable given the other crises Lebanon is facing and asked for international help with returning displaced Syrians.
He also asked for the United Nations to pressure Israel into ceasing “land, sea, and air violations of Lebanese sovereignty” while launching strikes against hostile positions in Syrian territory. Israel has acknowledged several strikes against Syrian military targets and Iran-backed terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, a militant extremist organization supported by Iran that is also one of the most powerful political forces in Lebanon. He specifically requested U.S. mediation on issues of Lebanese sovereignty and territorial rights.
Aoun concluded by hoping that international aid to Beirut after the explosion, and the shared experience of fighting against the Wuhan coronavirus, might be signs that the world has “reclaimed its morality,” and perhaps “humanity has regained some of its stature in a materialistic world marked by the use of force and injustice.”