Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri Reuters

A missile exploded earlier this month near the convoy of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he visited a mountainous area in the eastern Bekaa Valley, The Associated Press reported on Sunday, citing the Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV station.

Hariri’s office in a statement said most of the report was “generally correct.” The blast reportedly occurred some 500 meters away from Hariri’s motorcade on June 17.

Hariri was returning from a visit to the top Sunni cleric in the Bekaa valley, days after sectarian tensions and rare clashes in Beirut sparked by Lebanon’s ongoing economic and financial crisis.

Riots in Lebanon first erupted in October of 2019, in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users.

The tax was later scrapped but the protests continued and morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

The protests resulted in the resignation of Hariri, who was replaced by Hassan Diab.

Al-Hadath TV reported that the explosion occurred as Hariri’s convoy of some 30 vehicles was returning to Beirut after the meeting in the eastern village of Makseh.

The report said security forces searched the area and found the remains of a missile. It added that an investigation was underway to determine whether the missile was fired from a drone or from the ground, as well as to determine the type of missile.

Three Lebanese security and military officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the incident from AP.

Hariri’s office said the former prime minister was informed by security services of an explosion in the area on the same day. But because “the convoy was not subjected to any attack, and to prevent any exploitation in light of the prevailing tension,” Hariri decided to remain silent about the incident and wait for the investigation to end.

Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated on February 14, 2005 in a massive truck bomb on a seaside road in Beirut that killed 21 others.

A UN-backed tribunal has indicted members of the Hezbollah terrorist organization of being behind Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Hezbollah denies the accusation and has refused to turn over the suspects.