0252 GMT November 28, 2020
Responding to calls that he step down, Aoun told the French TV station BFMTV in his first interview with foreign media since the Aug. 4 blast that it would be “impossible” because it would create a power vacuum.
The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing that the country’s top leadership, including Aoun, and security officials were aware of the chemicals that had been stored there for years, AP reported on Sunday.
The blast killed at least 180 people and wounded more than 6,000. At least 30 people are still missing.
Aoun said the probe is divided into three parts. The first aims to determine the circumstances surrounding the cargo, the second where it came from and who shipped it, and the third, who was responsible for handling and securing it.
“We had the determination to reach conclusions quickly but we found out that the issues are very complex and require time,” said Aoun.
When asked about what measures he took when he learned of the explosives in July, Aoun said the information came to him “very late,” but his military adviser was reassured that those with direct responsibility were handling the matter.
“They all were informed,” Aoun said, adding that he made sure those who could take measures to secure the area were in the loop.
Aoun said FBI and French investigators were helping “to find out the details of what got the ship here, what is the source, and who owns it.”
Aoun said he asked for satellite images to determine if there was an air raid, saying he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a foreign missile attack.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said any international probe would likely seek to clear Israel of responsibility in the port explosion, if it had a hand.
Popular anger has swelled over the ruling elite’s corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty. Under pressure, Lebanon’s government resigned on Aug. 10. For now, there are no formal consultations underway on who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged.
Asked about the public anger, Aoun said he shares the rage.
“They call me the father of the people,” he said. “I am one of them.”
But Aoun said, “It is impossible” for him to step down because it would create a power vacuum. He also said the moment is not right to hold presidential elections.
“The political and popular atmosphere can’t take new elections before restoring calm,” he said. “They would be emotional and not a true representation of the people.”
Aoun was elected in 2016, breaking more than two years of deadlock in which Lebanon remained without a president.