The fires that devastated large forested areas in Akkar in the north of Lebanon had not yet been extinguished, when on Sunday morning another fire erupted following the explosion of a fuel tank in the village of Al-Talil, which killed at least 28 people and injured 79 others
The victims stemmed from among the region’s poorest, who had flocked to the site to obtain some scarce gasoline, and the army supervising distribution.
The explosion brings us back to the blast of August 4 last year. The state of weariness that the port explosion revealed, today extended to Akkar, revealing the Lebanese political elite in yet another role as a mass murderer.
Looking at the explosion in more detail, the fuel tanks were confiscated in front of the house of George Rashid, a well-known merchant in the region, who lives on the main road, which means that he has been storing the petrol for months right in front of the eyes of the state without anyone ever raiding him.
The people of Akkar know very well that every smuggler in the region is affiliated with one or more of the state’s representatives. About two months ago, a large force from the security forces’ Information Branch raided a warehouse owned by merchant Ali Abbas in the town of Aidmon and confiscated thousands of liters of diesel.
The warehouse was located in the heart of the town, which meant residents were at risk. As for Abbas’ political background, the man had a picture of MP Asaad Dergham of the President Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on the building where the materials were stored. In other words: Asaad’s picture was blessed with diesel, unlike the people of Akkar.
It should be noted that the stifling fuel crisis, which Beirut and other Lebanese cities are currently facing, Akkar has experienced for over 7 months. The owners of gas stations and private generators prefer to smuggle diesel and gasoline across the border to Syria, as it brings them double the profit.
Prior to the incident, the army and Internal Security Forces had decided to raid all gas stations and fuel storage facilities, after the stations had stopped selling any more fuel in Beirut on Saturday. The campaign started, as there was no longer any petrol at all, and the army pledged it would distribute confiscated items among the people for free. In this context, the army raided the lands and villa belonging to George Rashid.
They found thousands of liters of stored petrol. The army took part of it, while the rest was to be distributed. Hence, citizens from neighboring towns and villages, as well as some Syrian refugees flocked together in the hope of getting some gasoline.
A fight, a fire, a shooting? There are many stories. Yet, some witness accounts, which we were not able to verify, claim George Rashid’s son tried to burn down the tanker. When he failed, someone shot at it, which caused the explosion.
The smuggler could not stand seeing the poor on his “private” property, one citizen told Daraj. “The smuggler considers it his right to smuggle subsidized gasoline to Syria or to sell it on the black market,” he said. “And in defense of this right, he tried to burn the tanker with the bodies of the poor, who have been deprived of electricity and movement for months. The smuggler will continue his work, even on the corpses of the people. Of course, he needs an MP to protect him. For the MP enjoys immunity, and so we go back to ground zero, just as in the Beirut explosion.”
President Michel Aoun expressed his deepest sorrows in his comments on the Akkar massacre, as did his son-in-law Gebran Bassil. But will they also express regrets that it is their representatives who protect Akkar’s smugglers? Will they agree to lifting immunity if necessary?
Arrogance and insolence, however, are not limited to the Aounist movement. Saad Hariri has been tweeting over the dead bodies, as usual taking advantage of the incident to call for the resignation of the President Aoun. Meanwhile, he too has an MP sponsoring some of the biggest smugglers in the region.
In Akkar the corrupt authorities reveal a whole new face: sponsoring smuggling, which has not only drained people’s deposits, but is now also taking their lives.