Lebanese “deserve the truth” about deadly port explosion: Guterres

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The scale of the devastation has drawn comparisons in Lebanon to the horrors endured by the people of Hiroshima in 1945, after one of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II uplifted the city. Japanese, killing tens of thousands of people. Locals call this infamous August 4, 2020 “Beirut-shima” day.

UN News travels with UN chief António Guterres and in a tweet on a busy day of meetings and events, he paid tribute to the victims of the Beirut port explosion last year, highlighting that “an impartial and transparent investigation into this tragic event is crucial to ensure justice”. For him, “the Lebanese people deserve the truth”.

According to seismologists, the explosion pressure was equivalent to an earthquake of 3.3 on the Richter scale. The first explosion occurred at 6:08 p.m. local time, after a fire broke out in a storage area containing a large amount of ammonium, followed by another massive explosion that caused extensive damage to the port and large areas of the city.

The explosions left some 217 dead, more than 6,000 injured and an estimated 300,000 families displaced, with losses estimated at several billion dollars.

In his remarks in the Lebanese capital to reporters, the Secretary-General spoke about his visit to the port, saying it was a very emotional moment. “The suffering of people, first of all, those who perished, their families, the injured, the dramatic impact in the lives of so many people is something that of course generates a very deep solidarity”.

On the other hand, he noted that he had received messages from many victims asking “the need to establish the truth, the need for an independent investigation, which is capable of producing this truth”. He said he fully understood their concerns and hoped that the country’s institutions would be able to ensure that the truth came to light.

UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres visits the site of the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, last year.

The fear of being forgotten

I was deeply moved by the stories and insights shared by refugee students & parents at an @UNRWA school today in Lebanon.

UNRWA is helping over 500,000 children reach their dreams & achieve their full potential. They deserve our full support. pic.twitter.com/hB1f0zgpz7

– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 20, 2021

Despite very rainy weather, the Secretary-General also visited the city of Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, where he visited the Lydda mixed school, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

UN News interviewed Mr. Fadi Al-Tayyar, UNRWA Information Officer, on the eve of the Secretary-General’s visit to the school, and asked him about the importance of his meeting with the students and other refugees. He said that this visit comes at a crucial and difficult time for Lebanon and for the Palestinian refugees: “The Palestinian refugee is afraid of being forgotten, and of being marginalized,” he added.

For him, this visit by the head of the United Nations is “an explicit recognition that this refugee still exists, and that the United Nations considers him, that his problem still exists”.

“Therefore, we must act. We all need to find a solution to this problem, and his coming to this school, his presence and his meeting with these students is also a message in the same context, and there is no doubt that it will be an opportunity for them to express what they are feeling, their problems and their concerns ”.

Sleep on an empty stomach

At the Lydda school run by UNRWA, Mr. Guterres met, among others, parents and children enrolled in the Youth Parliamentary Program who shared their concerns and daily problems as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Young Wissam said some parents are being forced to take their children out of school because they cannot afford the bus ticket to go to class, due to the current crisis.

As for Jamal, a young Palestinian refugee who has been displaced from Syria due to the ongoing war, he said that “often we sleep hungry because our parents could not provide for the family”.

Zeina stressed the importance of the right to education for Palestinian refugees, saying that education “is their only hope to change their life”. She hopes that the Secretary-General will continue to protect this right.

Zeina said she wanted to be an astronaut, but her family couldn’t afford it.

Do not lose hope

Expressing his apologies and personal concern to Palestinian children and parents for the situation they face, the Secretary-General recognized the importance of children’s right to education and food, saying the UN was fighting “To get more support for UNRWA and to see if we can do the best for you all – in school and supporting families where that support is needed.”

On the other hand, the Secretary-General affirmed that the UN is trying to do its best to restore the peace process, and that it believes in the existence of two States, Israel and Palestine, living in peace. side by side, which could ultimately end the difficult situation facing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere.

But he admitted that it is not an easy task, stressing at the same time “the importance of not losing hope” for a better future.

UNIFIL Photo / Mohamad Hamza

Ms. Iman El Rafei, Secretary General of the Governorate of North Lebanon and Chargé d’affaires at the Municipality of El Mina, interviewed by May Yaacoub.

Rehabilitation of the Corniche de Mina

Also on the Secretary-General’s agenda in Tripoli was a visit to the Corniche El-Mina and waterfront rehabilitation project, which was carried out in cooperation between the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), funded by Germany.
This project was implemented through the “Cash-For-Work” and “Employment-Intensive” programs.

In an interview with UN Info, Ms. Iman Al-Rafi’i, Charg d’Affaires at the Municipality of El Mina, spoke about the impact of the rehabilitation of the Corniche on the residents of the city, and the positive results. that they can wait.

She underlined three positive results, the first of which is “the employment of many Lebanese and also many displaced Syrians, in addition to the employment of women”.

As for the second, she said that the rehabilitation has helped promote tourism in the region, which leads to the creation of employment opportunities again by strengthening the tourism sector and services, such as restaurants. and cafes.

Third, this project provides an incentive to visit the reserves located on the islands adjacent to the city of El Mina, Ms. Al-Rafei said, noting that this was very important for local development, especially since the city of El Mina Mina, like most cities in Lebanon, currently suffers from widespread social and economic deprivation, and is one of the poorest urban areas on the Mediterranean coast.

Thanks to the economic stimulus projects of the UNDP and the ILO, the sidewalk of the Corniche and the seafront were rehabilitated, which made it possible to provide around 48,000 days of work to the local population and around 1,200 jobs. in the short term to the most vulnerable Lebanese and displaced Syrians.

The development of the infrastructure of the cornice included excavation, installation of a storm system, a network of sewers and manholes, electrical and mechanical works, landscaping, plowing, installation of railings and asphalt and concrete work.

Towards credible elections

The Secretary-General also met with prominent Lebanese politicians on Monday, including the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.

At a press conference held after these meetings, the Secretary-General expressed his optimism, saying that “there is a clear guarantee that elections will take place in early May, before the constitutional date is set. , which means that Lebanon will create the conditions to renew its Parliament and, with that, hopefully, to establish a new political stability for the future ”.

I am happy that the United Nations team fully supports the government and I hope that the necessary political conditions will be created as soon as possible to allow formal negotiations to take place – António Guterres.

On the other hand, he expressed his great admiration for the work that the government is doing in terms of preparing for negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying that “a lot of technical work has been done”.

“I am pleased that the United Nations team fully supports the government and I hope that the necessary political conditions will be created as soon as possible to allow formal negotiations to take place. But it is encouraging to see all the serious work that is being done ”.

While expressing his deep solidarity with all the victims of the port, he also expressed his hope in the capacity of the country, not only to rebuild the port, but also to rebuild its economy and create the conditions to achieve prosperity and development. that the Lebanese people deserve.

Religious dialogue, inclusion of women

The Secretary-General also met with religious leaders, who affirmed their attachment to the values ​​of openness, tolerance and coexistence, which are at the heart of Lebanon’s identity and stability.

The participants underlined in a joint statement the importance of safeguarding these values, which are at the heart of all beliefs, especially in this difficult period of serious financial and socio-economic crisis which heavily affects everyone in Lebanon.

Participants expressed their determination to focus on what unites the country and brings its people together, and they encouraged their communities to do the same and embrace dialogue as a way to resolve differences in a spirit of consensus and unity. .

During her meeting with a group of Lebanese women representing various orientations and affiliations, the Secretary-General underlined the importance of broadening the scope of the participation, inclusion and representation of young men and women in political processes. nationals, noting that during his meetings with political leaders, he had insisted on the importance of this issue.

He stressed that full, timely, free, fair and transparent elections are the key to maintaining democratic practices in Lebanon and ensuring that the voices of the Lebanese, especially the younger generations and women, are heard.

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