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After US claims, France says no evidence of Hezbollah explosives stores

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) and France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Baabda Palace in Beirut, Lebanon on 23 July 2020 [Lebanese Presidency/Anadolu Agency]
Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) and France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Baabda Palace in Beirut, Lebanon on 23 July 2020 [Lebanese Presidency/Anadolu Agency]

France’s foreign ministry on Friday said there was no evidence to suggest the armed wing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah was storing chemicals to make explosives in France after a senior US official said the group had set up caches in Europe since 2012.

Speaking on Thursday, Nathan Sales, the US State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, accused the Iran-backed group of smuggling and storing chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

“It stores these weapons in places so it can conduct major terrorist attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem necessary,” Sales said in a briefing without elaborating or providing evidence of the activities.

Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical commonly used in fertilisers and as an explosive used for quarrying and mining. It is considered relatively safe if uncontaminated and stored properly.

It is extremely dangerous if contaminated, mixed with fuel, or stored unsafely, as was seen at the Beirut port on August 4, after 2,750-tonnes of it exploded, destroying the port and killing at least 190 people.

“To our knowledge, there is nothing tangible to confirm such an allegation in France today,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in response to Sales’ allegations.

Unlike the United States, which has designated the heavily armed and politically powerful Hezbollah movement as a terrorist group since 1997, France has said its elected arm has a legitimate political role.

READ: US announces new sanctions on companies, individuals linked to Hezbollah

France is spearheading efforts to set Lebanon on a new course after decades of corruption that has led to its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Its European allies, Germany and Britain, also consider the group a terrorist organisation, but French officials argue that ostracising it would make efforts to resolve the crisis impossible.

Sales said the chemicals had been smuggled into Europe in first-aid kits and were possibly in Spain, Greece, and Italy.

“Any illegal activity committed by a foreign organisation on our territory would be sanctioned by the French authorities with the greatest firmness,” von der Muhll said.

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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