Gemayel Requests Parliamentary Probe into Idle Firefighting Planes
Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel on Wednesday filed a request for the formation of a parliamentary panel of inquiry to probe why Lebanon’s three firefighting planes have been unfunctional since 2014, a day after wildfires engulfed the country and prompted Lebanon to ask Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Jordan to send firefighting aircraft.
“Fires destroyed vast areas of forestland due to the government’s shortcomings and negligence in performing maintenance on the firefighting planes, leaving a lot of Lebanese areas and citizens under the mercy of the flames that besieged their homes, centers and vehicles,” Gemayel said at a press conference in Parliament.
The state has been widely criticized by residents because Lebanon bought three aircraft several years ago to be used in extinguishing fires but they have been parked at Beirut's airport with no money to maintain them.
“We demand the formation of a parliamentary panel of inquiry to investigate the negligence… and the endangering of the lives, properties and environment of the Lebanese,” he added.
Wildfires spread through parts of Lebanon on Tuesday after forcing some residents to flee their homes in the middle of the night, while others were stuck inside.
A heat wave in the region coupled with strong winds intensified the fires that began a day earlier in mostly pine forests around the country and three provinces in neighboring Syria. A volunteer firefighter was killed and several people were injured in the fires -- among the worst to hit Lebanon in years.
Fire crews were overwhelmed by the flames in the Mount Lebanon region early Tuesday, forcing the Interior Ministry to send riot police with engines equipped with water cannons to help. Two small aircraft were sent from the nearby Mediterranean island of Cyprus to help put out the flames.
The U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL also dispatched crews and firefighting vehicles.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri said if the fires turn out to be intentional those behind it "will pay a price." President Michel Aoun and Hariri said that an investigation will be opened to know what caused the fires.