Pressure on Lebanon to address media reports over lax airport security

Published January 14th, 2016 - 03:00 GMT

Flights from Britain and France to Beirut will remain open, said the head of Rafik Hariri International Airport Fadi Hasan Wednesday in the wake of media reports that London and Paris were considering suspending flights to Beirut over the airport’s security situation. “The news reports are baseless. We deal directly with these airlines, whether it is Air France or British Airways, and these two companies are very satisfied with the security measures at the Beirut airport,” Hasan told the Central News Agency.

Nicola Delucia, the spokesperson for the British charge d’affaires in Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, refused to comment on the security situation of Beirut airport, though she did emphasize that there have not been any boycotts on flights heading to and from Beirut as of now.

“Flights to Beirut remain unchanged but we still advise our citizens to monitor the situation here if they wish to visit Lebanon,” she told The Daily Star over the phone.

Jean Cristophe Auge, the spokesperson for the French ambassador, Patrice Paoli, declined to comment about the media reports at this time.

According to media reports published Wednesday, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that both countries were contemplating boycotting flights due to lax security measures at the Rafik Hariri International Airport.

“The airport is suffering from serious problems that should no longer be overlooked,” he told the daily As-Safir.

Machnouk said France and the U.K. were waiting to see whether the Lebanese government would act immediately to address security gaps at Beirut airport. However, Hasan dismissed the matter and insisted that neither British Airways nor Air France have brought up any security concerns to him.

“Till today, they [the airlines] have not made any complaints or expressed any reservation in this regard,” he said. “It is true the Beirut airport is in need of upgrades but this does not mean that it is not safe.”

According to media reports, a company has already been selected to construct a much needed fence around the airport, but the project is awaiting sufficient funds.

The British government has warned its citizens from traveling to multiple destinations in Lebanon, including driving on the main road to reach the areas of Beirut they consider safe. The French government has also done the same, deeming half the country dangerous and urging its citizens to travel with caution.

With the security of the airport itself in question, members of the Lebanese government have vowed to align their security protocol with EU standards.

“[Parliament Speaker] Nabih Berri has shown willingness to resolve any security problem,” Machnouk said. “If it hadn’t been for me and the efforts of the speaker then there wouldn’t be a formal inquiry into this issue.”

Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter could not be reached. He is expected to hold a news conference soon on the matter.


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