Lebanon’s government is teetering on the verge of collapse following the resignation of the justice minister on Monday, the third cabinet member to step down in protest after last week’s catastrophic explosion in Beirut.
Amid reports the entire government may soon step down, Marie-Claude Najm said she offered her resignation over the explosion last Tuesday and the protests that followed, local media reported.
Ms Najm had water thrown at her people shouted abuse while she was visiting a damaged area last week, amid widespread anger at a government that many Lebanese hold accountable for the explosion that damaged half the capital.
Her resignation followed those of the ministers of information and environment on Sunday. The government will effectively revert to a caretaker role if seven or more ministers resign.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab may himself soon resign, a source close to the embattled leader told Sky News Arabia.
Lebanon’s cabinet was scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon to consider a draft bill for early parliamentary elections, following two nights of violent anti-government protests in Beirut at which demonstrators erected mock gallows and called the overthrow of the country’s ruling class.
The cabinet was formed in January with the backing of powerful Iranian-backed Hizbollah group and its allies. It was tasked with enacting reforms to address a financial crisis and the demands of a nationwide protest movement that forced the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri last October.
But pressure is mounting on the government to step down, while foreign governments at an international donor conference on Sunday made clear that foreign aid would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population”.
Over £228 million pounds were pledged for immediate humanitarian relief on Sunday, including a further £20 million from the UK, on top of £5 million already made available.
USAID acting administrator John Barsa said on Sunday that American financial aid “is absolutely not going to the government.”
At least nine members of parliament have now also resigned over the disaster, as the death toll has risen to more than 200 people and over 6,000 wounded.
Dozens remain missing, Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said Monday, including many foreign workers.
The army has ended the rescue phase of the search for survivors at ground zero of the explosion at the port, where rescue workers had been looking for missing port workers who might have been trapped alive in the rubble.
The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate blamed for the blast was seized from a cargo ship in 2013 and left at the port since then, despite port officials repeatedly warning of the danger the stockpile posed.
Losses from the blast are estimated between $10 billion to $15 billion and come as the country was already suffering a crippling economic collapse. The homes of an estimated 300,000 were unlivable in the immediate aftermath of the blast, with hundreds of buildings irreparably damaged.
On Saturday, Mr Diab promised early elections, saying he would remain in power for two months until parties could reach an agreement.
Lebanon’s entrenched political class, which has been in power since the end of the civil law, has been blamed for decades of mismanagement and corruption that produced the current economic collapse, as well as the conditions in which a huge amount of explosive material could be stored in the capital for six years.
While President Michel Aoun has rejected an international probe into the blast, a Lebanese judge began questioning on Monday the heads of the country’s security agencies on Monday.
The head of State Security Maj Gen Tony Saliba was the first to be interviewed by Judge Ghassan El Khoury, with more generals scheduled to be questioned.
About 20 people have been arrested over the explosion, including the head of the port and the head of Lebanon’s customs and his predecessor.
Officials say dozens of people have been questioned, including two former ministers, about why nothing was done about the ammonium nitrate stored at the port.
As recently as July 20, State Security had warned of the danger of the chemical, in a report sent to the offices of the president and prime minister.
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