Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday “categorically” denied his terror group had stored any weapons or explosives at Beirut’s port, following the massive explosion there Tuesday that has claimed over 157 lives and wounded thousands.
“I would like to absolutely, categorically rule out anything belonging to us at the port. No weapons, no missiles, or bombs or rifles or even a bullet or ammonium nitrate,” Nasrallah said. “No cache, no nothing. Not now, not ever.”
After rising tensions with Israel in recent weeks, Nasrallah had originally intended to address the country on Wednesday. Tuesday night’s Beirut port explosion sent the country reeling. So far 157 have been confirmed dead and over 5,000 wounded. Around 300,000 Beirut residents were rendered homeless as the blast tore apart homes miles from the port.
Israel has denied initial speculation that it had played a role in the explosion. Senior Hezbollah officials speaking on condition of anonymity to Lebanese media have been equally insistent that neither Hezbollah nor Israel was involved.
Preliminary evidence released by officials indicates that the explosion is connected to 2,750 metric tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate which was left unsupervised in the port for almost six years. Documents allege that customs officials asked to move the vast trove numerous times but never received a reply.
However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said earlier Friday that the probe into the blast was investigating the option of foreign involvement, despite many commentators saying the possibility was unlikely.
“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” Aoun said.
He added that the investigation was being conducted on three levels. “First, how the explosive material entered and was stored … second whether the explosion was a result of negligence or an accident … and third the possibility that there was external interference,” he said.
While the government has promised an immediate investigation, many Lebanese remain skeptical, saying that the Beirut port disaster is merely the latest in a long line of neglect and corruption which have brought the country to its greatest crisis since the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.
Hundreds of demonstrators late Thursday night gathered outside the parliament building in downtown Beirut, with some attempting to set fire to its outer walls, before security forces dispersed them with tear gas.
While Hezbollah provides its own social services and operates its own militia, it also dominates the March 8 movement — which currently controls the Lebanese government. It is also been reported to have engaged in smuggling at Lebanese ports.
Seeking to deflect criticism of the terror group, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah was not responsible for the port’s activities. As Hezbollah claims its primary responsibility is fighting Israel, the Lebanese terror group may know more about Israeli ports.
“We don’t rule the port, or administrate it, nor do we interfere in it, nor do we know what’s going on there…our responsibility is resistance [against Israel],” Nasrallah said. “We know more about Haifa port than about Beirut port.”
Nasrallah has in the past threatened to target the chemical and oil refineries in Haifa port in a bid to create an explosion similar to the Beirut blast. During the 2006 war with Israel, the terror group fired hundreds of rockets at Haifa.
Nasrallah barely mentioned Israel during the speech, although, echoing comments made by Aoun, he did not rule out that the explosion could have been caused by foreign intervention.
“Those who are responsible will be treated like collaborators — his religion or sect is irrelevant…whoever they are, whatever their family or sect or party, justice must prevail,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah called what he said were politically motivated attacks on Hezbollah by those seeking to “settle political scores” in the midst of a crisis, including what he said was an attempt “from the outset” to blame Hezbollah for the explosion by the media and some “political forces.”
“The point is always for these wrongdoers to find something with which to blame Hezbollah,” he said.
“Even the Americans have gone back on what they said with regard to this issue,” Nasrallah said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s claim that the Beirut port explosion was the result of an “attack.”
Nasrallah called for the country to “put their conflicts aside,” saying that the disaster had affected Lebanese of all sects in the divided country.
“We are facing a horrific incident, on a humanitarian and national level, by every measure,” he said. “There are dead and wounded from all sects…Beirut is the city of all Lebanese, no matter their religious and sectarian affiliation.”
There is a regime crisis, a state crisis, even a crisis of existence,” Nasrallah concluded. “If the Lebanese authorities fail in this duty, there is no hope.”