Lebanon's Hezbollah leader 'categorically denies' storing arms at Beirut blast site
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Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday strongly denied that his powerful Shiite movement had stored arms at Beirut's port, describing the cataclysmic explosion there as "a major tragedy".
"We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor (ammonium) nitrate," Nasrallah said in a televised speech three days after the blast in the Lebanese capital that killed more than 150 people.
He called the explosion a "major tragedy and humanitarian catastrophe," saying it required a kind of response that would match its "exceptional" scale.
The blast injured at least 5,000 people and devastated entire districts of the capital, leaving some 300,000 people temporarily homeless.
An investigation by authorities has so far led to 21 arrests, as well as travel bans and asset freezes.
Authorities had said a fire at the port had ignited tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored there for years, but President Michel Aoun said Friday it could have been caused by an attack.
Aoun rejected calls for an international probe while Nasrallah urged "the army to investigate and announce its findings".
He said the Lebanese military is in a prime position to do so because it is seen as a "trusted" institution by people and politicians across the spectrum.
The Hezbollah leader warned against delays in the probe, saying: "If the Lebanese state and the political class... do not reach a conclusion in the investigations this means... there is no hope to build a state."
International assistance swiftly flooded into Lebanon after the blast and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday made a snap, but influential, visit to Beirut, where he pressed leaders for change and announced an international aid conference in the coming days.
He met with several Lebanese leaders, including Hezbollah representatives on his one-day trip.
Nasrallah praised the international community for its outpouring of support in the wake of the blast, but singled out Macron's visit as "the most significant".
"We look positively at any assistance and any expression of sympathy towards Lebanon," he said.
Hezbollah is the only group not to have disarmed after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and it fought Israeli troops who occupied southern Lebanon until 2000.
It commands a majority in government and parliament along with its political allies.
Hezbollah has also been a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria, where it fights alongside regime forces.
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