Journalists, diplomats tour Beirut airport after weapons claims

A member of airport security looks over cargo in the Beirut airport as journalists investigate for themselves whether Hezbollah has hidden missiles between the Amazon packages. [William Christou/TNA]

Journalists and diplomats inspected the storage facilities at the Beirut International airport on Monday morning on a tour put on by Lebanese authorities in response to a Telegraph article which alleged the airport was used to store Hezbollah weapons.

On Sunday, the Telegraph published an article without a listed author, which quoted anonymous “whistleblowers” at the Beirut airport who alleged with no evidence that Hezbollah stores a wide range of weapons there.

The article claimed Hezbollah stored missiles with ranges of up to 320 kilometres, as well as explosives that affect the human nervous system.

The Lebanese government immediately rejected the claims and said it would be raising a lawsuit against the British paper and what it called its “ridiculous claims.” It then issued an open invitation to diplomats in Beirut and members of the press to inspect the airport.

About a hundred journalists and dozens of diplomats joined the tour with members of Lebanon’s Ministry of Transport and aviation services. They were taken to a cargo processing facility, the hangar where imported and exported goods were unloaded, and driven around the perimeter of the airport fence.

Warehouse workers watched bemused as throngs of journalists descended upon the cargo shelves, taking pictures of Amazon packages and pallets of luxury beverages recently pulled off a plane.

“The article doesn’t concern us. Why would it scare me? We just unload the goods here,” a worker in the import-export hangar told The New Arab.

An official working in the cargo warehouse told TNA that they were worried by the Telegraph’s claims, saying it could frighten workers.

“The employees working here, when they read this kind of article, they will perhaps be afraid in case this airport is targeted in a future war,” the official said.

The Lebanese Ministry of Transport Ali Hamieh said on Sunday that the Telegraph article’s claims could expose airport workers to danger in the case of an expanded conflict with Israel.

Airport officials pointed to the presence of surveillance cameras and scanners as a prevention against the smuggling of goods through the airport, weapons or otherwise. They stressed that the airport was in line with international standards when it came to the treatment of cargo.

A western diplomat who was in attendance told TNA that the tour was the correct response to the Telegraph’s claims, and that it was important for diplomats to attend the airport inspection.

The Telegraph article comes as Lebanon and Israel are closer than ever to a full-scale war, with members of the Israeli government warning of a possible wider military operation in Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah have been engaged in increasingly violent cross-border clashes since Hamas’s 7 October surprise attack. The intensification of clashes and the continued displacement of over 100,000 Israeli residents of north Israel has put pressure on Israeli officials to find a solution to its conflict with Hezbollah.

Israel approved on 18 June an “operational plan” for an offensive in Lebanon, though it has not specified its details. Hezbollah has said it will stop fighting with Israel once a ceasefire in Gaza is achieved.

The Telegraph article raised fear in Beirut that Israel would target the Beirut airport in the event of a full-scale war with Lebanon. In 2006, Israel bombed the Beirut airport early on in the summer war.

The Israeli army was quoted in the Telegraph article as saying that “Hezbollah‘s strategy to hide weapons and operate from civilian neighbourhoods stems from its intentions to draw the IDF to target these civilian areas in times of escalation.”

The Telegraph retracted a statement from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) after the association clarified that the quote was “false” and did not come from the organisation.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *