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Lebanon holds airport tours to dispel weapons report amid Israel-Hezbollah tension

Lebanon has responded to a report that Hezbollah is moving weapons through its international airport with a tour for foreign diplomats and journalists.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government organized a tour for foreign diplomats and journalists at the Beirut airport Monday following reports that the paramilitary Hezbollah group was stocking weapons at the facility as the group and Israel edge closer to full-blown war.

The tour at the Rafik Hariri International Airport included ambassadors from the European Union, Germany, Egypt, India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Korea, Cuba, Romania, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Spain, Algeria and Nigeria, according to the state-run National News Agency.

The Lebanese ministers of information, foreign affairs and tourism led the tour, which also included local and international media crews.

The tour came in response to a report published Sunday by British daily The Telegraph, citing anonymous whistleblowers at the airport who claimed weapons supplies have been increasingly entering the facility on direct flights from Iran since the cross-border hostilities began last October.

Airport staff and intelligence sources interviewed by The Telegraph reported that “unusually big boxes” containing Iranian-made weapons were being stored and that high-level Hezbollah commanders were present.

Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of Information Ziad Makary denounced the report as part of a “psychological war” aimed at undermining the country’s “promising” summer tourism season.

“The airport is a public utility that concerns all the Lebanese,” he told the local MTV station from the airport on Monday, adding that it was impossible for Hezbollah to store missiles at the airport.

Shortly after the report was published, caretaker Transportation Minister Ali Hamieh denied the claims, vowing to sue the British daily.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Hamieh described the report as “ridiculous” and stressed, “There are no weapons entering or leaving Beirut airport.”

Hamied also criticized the paper for using unreliable sources, saying airport staff don't have the authority to open cargo that lands at the airport and that the customs department and airport security are in charge of screening.

The Union of Air Transport in Lebanon also denied the “baseless” report. In a statement on Sunday, it said the claims were “simply erroneous statements and lies aimed at endangering Beirut's airport and its employees, all civilians, and those who frequent it.”

The report comes at a critical time for Lebanon, amid fear that the Israel-Hezbollah cross-border fire will expand into a full-blown conflict.

Many Lebanese denounced the report on social media as justification for a possible Israeli airstrike on the airport in the event of war.

Field escalation

The exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and the Iran-backed Hezbollah that erupted Oct. 8, after the outbreak of the Gaza war, had been limited to the Israel-Lebanon border. But tensions have soared in recent days as the two parties escalated both rhetoric and strikes.

Hezbollah has launched hundreds of rockets in the past few days, while Israel killed more than 300 Hezbollah fighters and commanders in airstrikes inside Lebanon.

The Israeli press reported Monday that a fire broke out in a field between Manara and Margaliot after an anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon toward the Galilee.

Earlier on Monday, the army said two members of the security team in the northern town of Metula were injured in an anti-tank projectile fired from Lebanon overnight.

In another statement, the military said its fighter jets struck several sites used by Hezbollah in the southern Lebanese towns of Aitaroun, Kafr Kila and Khiam on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes flew at a low altitude over the southern area on Monday, the National News Agency reported, with one breaking the sound barrier over the town of Jezzine some 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the Israeli border.

Diplomatic action, warnings amid increasing threats

Israel has warned of a military offensive against Lebanon to eliminate the threat of Hezbollah on its northern front. Mediation efforts led by the United States and France have so far failed to calm the situation.

Hezbollah refuses to withdraw from the border area to beyond the Litani River, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the border. The group insists its fight against Israel will continue until a cease-fire is implemented in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the “intense phase” against Hamas in the Gaza Strip “is about to end” and the military’s focus will shift to the northern front with Lebanon.

“It doesn’t mean that the war is going to end, but the war in its current stage is going to end in Rafah,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the Israeli Channel 14 Television on Sunday, his first with local Israeli media since Oct. 7.

Once that happens, he added, “we will have the possibility of transferring some of our forces north, and we will do that.”

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has also escalated his threats, saying in a televised speech last week that “no place” in Israel would be spared if war broke out. Nasrallah also took aim at Cyprus, threatening to strike its airports and bases after allegedly receiving information that the small Mediterranean island will allow Israel to use its bases during a potential war against the Lebanese group.

Nasrallah’s threats prompted Cyprus to stress its neutrality in the Middle East, with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides saying that his country “is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution.”

Greece has expressed its support for Cyprus. Speaking to reporters in Luxembourg on Monday, Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis called the threats “absolutely unacceptable” and stressed that his country will stand by Cyprus against terrorist organizations.

Nasrallah’s threats, coupled with reports that thousands of Iran-backed fighters were ready to join Hezbollah in battle with Israel, have raised fears of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran told the Associated Press on Sunday that fighters from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen will fight alongside Hezbollah if a war erupts. They claimed thousands of them were already deployed in Syria and ready to cross the border into Lebanon.

Iran’s mission to the UN warned Israel on Friday that it would be the “ultimate loser” in a war with Hezbollah.

“The Lebanese Resistance Movement, Hezbollah, has the capability to defend itself and Lebanon — perhaps the time for the self-annihilation of this illegitimate regime [Israel] has come,” the mission wrote on X.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown cautioned that an Israeli offensive in Lebanon would trigger an Iranian response in defense of its ally and “drive up the potential for a broader conflict.”

“Hezbollah is more capable than Hamas as far as overall capability, number [of] rockets and the like. And I would just say I would see Iran be more inclined to provide greater support to Hezbollah,” Brown told reporters on Sunday.

The European Union also sounded alarms over the situation in Lebanon spilling over to the region. “We are on the eve of the war expanding,” the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters in Luxembourg on Monday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is heading to Lebanon on Tuesday following a stop in Israel and the West Bank for talks with officials on the border situation.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant embarked Sunday on a visit to Washington, where he is expected to discuss the escalation with Lebanon as well as the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Mood in Lebanon

Amid the escalating threats, several countries have asked their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon. On Friday, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry asked its citizens in Beirut to leave “as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, Canada is reportedly preparing to evacuate 45,000 of its citizens from Lebanon, according to Israeli media.

The situation has raised concerns among the Lebanese fearing war across the country.

The Arabic hashtag for "Lebanon does not want war" has been trending on social media since October, as many Lebanese and political forces blame Hezbollah for dragging the country into an unwanted war that Lebanon cannot afford amid a debilitating economic crisis and without a functioning government.

Hezbollah, which has gained considerable influence inside Lebanon in recent years, last fought a war with Israel in 2006.