Bassil Takes Ambassadors to 'Missile Sites', Urges World to Prevent Any Attack
Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil led dozens of ambassadors and journalists to locations near Beirut's international airport on Monday, including a golf course and a soccer stadium, seeking to dispel Israeli allegations of secret Hizbullah rocket facilities.
In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Lebanese group of setting up rocket factories near the airport and hiding them among civilians, holding up an aerial image of the area with the alleged missile sites labeled.
Calling on the international community to prevent any Israeli attack on Lebanon, Bassil said the Lebanese government would not allow rocket facilities near the airport and that Hizbullah is "wiser" than to place them there. He said Netanyahu's claims were based on "inaccurate" estimates without any "compelling evidence."
"Lebanon demands that Israel ceases its madness," he said.
Bassil added that Monday's tour, which included the ambassadors and several reporters, was not "a fact-finding mission," but part of a "counter-diplomatic campaign" to rebut the allegations, which he said could serve as a pretext for an Israeli attack. Israel and Hizbullah fought a devastating monthlong war in 2006 in which Israel bombed the runways of Beirut's airport.
Hizbullah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah recently boasted that his group now possesses "highly accurate" missiles despite Israeli attempts to prevent it from acquiring such weapons. The comments prompted an angry response from Netanyahu, who said Hizbullah will "receive a lethal blow it can't imagine" if it confronts Israel.
Bassil acknowledged Nasrallah's statement, but said "this doesn't mean that those missiles are present in the vicinity of Beirut airport."
“Lebanon is committed to international law and international resolutions but it does not abide by the dissociation policy when the matter is related to defending its land and people,” the minister went on to say.
He also asserted that the Lebanese have “a legitimate right to resistance, until the liberation of all occupied territory.”
“Today Lebanon is calling on all countries, especially the permanent U.N. Security Council members, to reject Israeli claims in order to prevent any Israeli attack on Lebanon,” Bassil added, warning that such an assault would have “repercussions across the region, especially amid the presence of the displaced Syrians and the Palestinian refugees.”
He added: “Israel is seeking to justify another aggression against Lebanon under the excuse of the presence of Hizbullah missile sites. What Netanyahu alleged at the U.N. was another illogical lie.”
Bassil however underlined that “Lebanon is strong enough to prevent any attack on it.”
“It does not scare us and when it launches threats we realize how weak it is,” Bassil added, noting that “Lebanon is in a constant diplomatic confrontation to prove the legitimacy of its cause.”
MTV meanwhile reported that Bassil “did not coordinate the tour with Hizbullah.”
It also said the Saudi and Emirati ambassadors opted not to take part in the tour although they attended the Foreign Ministry meeting.
Asked about the absence of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Bassil told reporters at the Ministry that she is outside the country. Quoting a diplomatic source, AFP reported that no deputy was sent to stand in for Richard.
The first stop on the tour was a golf course near the Rafik Hariri International Airport. Then the group went to the nearby Hizbullah-affiliated al-Ahed football club, where they toured the underground locker rooms and gym beneath the stadium and spoke to club officials. Netanyahu had said there was a missile site beneath the stadium.
"We come here for soccer and for fun. We also have our kids here. That is all we have here," said Mohammed Zriak, a player on the team, whose fan base largely consists of Hizbullah supporters.
The last stop was in Ouzai, an area near the airport.
After Bassil and the dozens of ambassadors and journalists arrived in the area, a reporter asked that they enter an abandoned warehouse to check if there were any missiles or missile-related equipment there. Live TV footage showed the warehouse littered with plastic bags and napkins and those who entered it did not report any suspicious activity or equipment.
The tour did not go to a third site indicated by Netanyahu as a dock by the Ouzai waterfront.
At least one participant appeared to have been convinced by the tour.
Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin of Russia, which along with Hizbullah is a close ally of the Syrian government, described the tour as "very good."
"On the diplomatic and political spheres, there are many statements," he told The Associated Press. "What we saw today are facts. There is a club and stadium. I can't imagine a secret thing happening in these places. We saw that with our own eyes."