LEBANON: Syriac Maronite Patriarch calls for removal of weapons caches; Arab and Western countries continue aid operations

BEIRUT — The explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut has led to widespread fear among the Lebanese people of the potential presence of other improperly stored dangerous materials which may lead to a similar, or possibly worse, disaster.

In response to the explosion, Patriarch of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch Béchara Boutros Raï called on Lebanese authorities to raid the illegal weapons caches scattered throughout residential neighborhoods in the country’s cities and villages to avoid a similar catastrophe.

Patriarch Raï also stressed the need to form a new government following the resignation of the government of Hassan Diab, as the Lebanese people are waiting for the formation of a government of national and economic salvation.

The Patriarch’s comments drew the ire of certain segments of Lebanese society. Al-Akhbar Newspaper accused Patriarch Raï of “aligning with the enemy and Israeli propaganda” against the Resistance.

The Episcopal Media Committee denounced the accusation and suggested to the newspaper that those who store weapons and explosives in residential neighborhoods endanger the Lebanese people.

The Committee voiced its support for the Patriarch and stated it stands behind his call for a policy of “active neutrality” in the region to ensure Lebanon’s independence.

International Aid Efforts Continue

Despite calls for wider political and economic reforms to be implemented in tandem with the delivery of aid, international efforts continue to help the Lebanese people weather the dire situation in the country.

The Italian Embassy in Lebanon announced the arrival of Italian amphibious transport ship San Giusto on Sunday in the port of Beirut as part of Operation Rice Emergency launched to assist the acute food shortage in the city after the destruction of the city’s grain silos in the port explosion.

The San Guisto is also equipped with a field hospital and is transporting a debris removal unit from the Italian Army’s engineering regiment and a unit of specialists in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.

Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said the ship’s arrival was further evidence of Italy’s support for the Lebanese people.

The Italian ship Aetna has also been dispatched to Lebanon carrying humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, regional neighbor Kuwait has pledged to rebuild the grain silo — the largest in the country — which was destroyed in the explosion.

Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon, Abdul-Al Al-Qena’i said that the silo was built in 1969 with a Kuwaiti development loan and Kuwait is prepared to rebuild such an important symbol of the close relations between the two countries.