'We are staring into the abyss - Hizbollah has no place in Lebanon's future' says former PM's son

Con Coughlin
The damage from the blast in Beirut on 4 August - AP
The damage from the blast in Beirut on 4 August - AP

The son of Lebanon’s murdered prime minister Rafic Hariri has called for the Iranian-backed militia Hizbollah to end its involvement in Lebanese politics and allow the country to rebuild following this month’s devastating blast at Beirut port which killed more than 200 people.

Bahaa Hariri, the 54-year-old son of the Lebanese prime minister who was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005, said the blame for the huge explosion at Beirut port  lay squarely with Hizbollah, which he said controlled the port, and Lebanon’s Maronite Chrstian President Michel Aoun, who supported the militia’s role in Lebanese politics.

“President Aoun is a very ardent supporter of Hizbollah, and I am very disappointed that our president stands where he stands,” said Mr Hariri in an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph.

“Hizbollah was in control of the port and they were in control of the storage facility. We had very explosive products stored in the port for 6 years even though there were very many warnings about it. The utter carelessness that led to this situation is appalling.”

Mr Hariri was speaking prior to publication on Tuesday of the long-awaited judgement of the special UN-sponsored criminal trial of four Hizbollah members who were accused of involvement in his father’s  assassination by a UN inquiry in 2011. The trial, which has been conducted in the Netherlands, was held in absentia because Hizbollah refused to hand over the suspects named by UN investigators.

A guilty verdict would heap even more pressure on the Iran-backed militia, which many Lebanese have blamed for the devastating blast at Beirut earlier this month, which was caused after 2,750-tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored at the port was ignited.

“Hizbollah has no place in Lebanon's future,” said Mr Hariri, who is campaigning for a wholesale reform of Lebanon’s political system that would exclude Hizbollah.

“Our country has paid a high price for their actions. They have brought Lebanon only sanctions, war and suffering. Communities must stand up in favour of a new nation that does not include militias and allows Lebanon to stand on its own feet, free from external influence,” he said in a reference to Iran’s support for Hizbollah.

Mr Hariri, a successful businessman, insists that he does not have any political ambitions of his own, but instead wants to emulate the role his father played in rebuilding Lebanon following the country’s 15-year-long civil war.

“I never, ever want to be prime minister,” he said.  “We were in a very good situation when my father died. We went from bad to worse and now we are staring into the abyss,” he explained.

His brother, Saad Hariri, served as prime minister until he was forced to resign last year following widespread anti-corruption protests.

Mr Hariri believes Lebanon’s future now rests on its ability to form a government based on non-sectarian lines, and one that is not controlled by groups he calls “warlords.”

“We are in a dire situation, the country is in a shambles and we have to think how we can help and move the country forward. My father came very close to bringing the country to a unified nation, and then he was assassinated.

“If we could do it then, we can do it now.”