Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the powerful Lebanese political party and militant organization Hezbollah, has given his first public remarks about Tuesday's deadly blast in Beirut, calling the event a "big tragedy," categorically denying claims that the explosion may have taken place at a Hezbollah weapons depot, and calling for national solidarity.
In the televised speech Friday which was originally scheduled to take place a day earlier, Nasrallah emphasized that the tragedy has affected Lebanese of all religious denominations, and was an "exceptional event" in Lebanon's modern history. He urged the country's political forces to set aside their differences at this time, and noted that all of Hezbollah's institutions and capacities have been made available to the state to deal with the consequences of the disaster.
Countries around the world have "shown big solidarity" with Lebanon, and a readiness to provide material aid, and Hezbollah welcomes such assistance, as well as plans by foreign leaders to visit the country, Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah Categorically Denies Any Blame for Blast
Nasrallah also touched on claims by some politicians in the aftermath of the port blast that the warehouse that sparked the disaster may have contained Hezbollah weapons, calling the allegations "unjust," and stressing that they began to be made just hours after the explosion occurred, while fires were still raging. "I absolutely deny that we have any weapons warehouse [at the port]," he said, adding that broader claims that Hezbollah runs Beirut's ports "are lies."
"We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate," he said, adding that any investigation will confirm this.
Nasrallah pointed out that Hezbollah members were among those killed and injured in the blast, and stressed that only an impartial investigation will reveal the truth about what happened. He emphasized that the investigation must be transparent and thorough, that "nobody should be protected," and that those responsible must be held to account.
Nasrallah suggested that the military, as an institution trusted by all sectors of society, should be allowed to conduct the investigation into the blast if the country's political forces agree. Alternatively, he said, a mixed committee including the army and other forces can be formed.
The official also noted that what Lebanon needs now is "solidarity and calm," and warned that the investigation should not allowed to be politicized or turned into a sectarian issue, as doing so would have "fateful consequences" for the country.
"Determining the truth about the explosion and punishing those responsible is an existential issue for this country. If we can't do that, then there is no hope for a Lebanese state," Nasrallah said.
Government Not Ruling Out Bomb or Missile
Earlier Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said authorities aren't ruling out the possibility of foreign involvement in Tuesday's blast, saying investigators are not ruling out that a the incident may have been caused as a result of a missile or bomb.
Authorities say the explosion, which ripped through dozens of blocks of the capital and killed over 150 people and injured 5,000 others, was caused by the improper storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port. The blast is thought to have had the power of several hundred tonnes of TNT, and to have affected up to half of the Lebanese capital, leaving as many as 300,000 people homeless and causing $3 billion in damage.
Russia, Iran, China, the United States, multiple European nations and other countries have rushed to provide Lebanon with humanitarian aid in the wake of the disaster.