'It Depends': Lebanese President Doesn't Rule Out Peace With Israel

Michel Aoun says there are problems to be solved before a deal can be made, amid speculation over whether other Arab nations will follow UAE and normalize ties

The Associated Press
The Associated Press
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Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020.
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Lebanese President Michel Aoun didn't rule out one day making peace with Israel once unresolved issues are settled in an interview that aired late Saturday. 

In light of last week's deal establishing full diplomatic relations between the Israel and United Arab Emirates, Aoun was asked if Lebanon too would reach a peace dea. He replied: “It depends.”

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“We have problems with Israel that we need to solve first,” Aoun said.

Lebanon and Israel are technically still at war, and the former's powerful Hezbollah militia has engaged in occasional clashes along the border. Hezbollah and Israel last engaged in a full-fledged conflict in a 50-day war in the summer of 2006.

The UAE and Israel opened diplomatic ties as part of a deal brokered by the U.S. that required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex West Bank land sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Aoun also told French TV station BFMTV said the probe into this month's devastating blast in Beirut is “very complex” and would not be finished quickly.

Responding to calls that he step down, Aoun said that it would be "impossible" because it would create a power vacuum. The interview, his first with foreign media since the August 4 blast, aired late Saturday.

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.

The blast killed 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 to find 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 the FBI and French investigators were helping because “they, more than us, have the capability and ability to find out the details of what got the ship here, what is the source and who owns it.”

A nine-member team of FBI investigators landed in Beirut on Sunday, according to a Lebanese aviation official.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has denied his group has any role in the explosion and said any international probe would likely seek to clear Israel of responsibility in the port explosion, if it had a hand.

Israel has denied involvement and so far no evidence has emerged to suggest otherwise.

Many Lebanese want the probe taken out of the hands of their government, fearing that bickering among the long-entrenched political factions, notorious for corruption, won’t allow any results to come to light that are damaging to their leadership.

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