BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Wednesday called on the international community to support Lebanon in overcoming several crises it is currently facing, in his speech during the 75th session of United Nations General Assembly.
“Lebanon is in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. Accumulations have burst all at once,” Aoun said in his televised speech. “A severe recession due to the economic and financial situation, in addition to the COVID-19 crisis and its repercussions, and finally the Beirut Port disaster that struck its very heart, from a humanitarian and an economic point of view,” he listed.
The catastrophic Aug. 4 Beirut Port explosion destroyed half the capital, leaving an estimated 300,000 residents without homes. The blast further exacerbated the deterioration of the Lebanese economy which has been teetering on the verge of collapse for a year. The national currency has devalued by 80 percent since October, making food and basic household items unaffordable.
Adding to the economic pressures, COVID-19 lockdown measures forced businesses across the country to close and an alarming surge in cases have overwhelmed an already fragile health care system.
Aoun said that the material damage in the aftermath of the explosion was “unprecedented,” adding that nearly 200,000 housing units were damaged as well as vital infrastructure including electricity and water networks.
“The big problem is the totally demolished neighborhoods and facilities. There is a tremendous need for support from the international community to rebuild them,” Aoun said. “The soundest solution may be to divide the devastated area into geographical zones and let every state that wishes to help commit to a specific zone and undertake its reconstruction directly,” he added.
The president warned that the repercussions of the explosion would raise poverty rates, “which were already at 45 percent before the Beirut blast according to the World Bank, which estimated the economic loss of the explosion at about $3.5 billion.”
Material damage was estimated at $3.5 billion and emergency reconstruction needs were estimated at $2 billion.
Speaking on ongoing and opaque blast investigations, Aoun said, “We have forwarded the blast file to the Judicial Council, the highest penal judicial body in Lebanon, a judicial investigator has been appointed and is carrying out his probes and procedures.”
Aoun also called for the international community to help Lebanon facilitate the return of Syrian refugees back to their country, which he sees as adding further pressure to the ailing economy.
“Lebanon demands intensified efforts for the safe and dignified return of displaced Syrians … and calls for the help of the Lebanese government in implementing the plan it approved for the return of displaced persons,” Aoun said.
More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, having fled the war next door. The country is currently in the middle of an unprecedented economic and social crisis, with mounting public debt and rising poverty levels.
Aoun took the opportunity to push the UN and the international community to “bind Israel to carry its full obligations,” and “cease its land, sea and air violations of the Lebanese sovereignty and to stop trespassing Lebanon’s air space.”
Israel often enters Lebanese air space in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for Israel to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. In April 2020, an Israeli drone destroyed a vehicle belonging to Hezbollah on the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon border, near the Masnaa crossing.
The president also stressed Lebanon’s full rights to its maritime resources. He called on the US to mediate “for the necessary negotiations to definitely delineate the maritime borders according to international law and in a manner that preserves Lebanon’s sovereignty and rights to its resources.”
Lebanon has been locked in a fierce battle with Israel over land and maritime borders and the two countries remain technically in a state of war. In recent years, Washington has been asked and volunteered to help negotiate maritime borders after potential oil and gas reserves were discovered between Lebanese and Israeli waters.
Source: The Daily Star