Three days after a massive explosion rocked Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, the country’s President Michel Aoun said that an investigation committee is presently looking into whether the blast was deliberately caused by a rocket, bomb or other external interference.
“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Aoun told local media today, according to Reuters.
The ongoing investigation is being conducted at three levels: “First, how the explosive material entered and was stored…second whether the explosion was a result of negligence or an accident…and third the possibility that there was external interference,” he added.
Meanwhile, rescue teams and volunteers continue to plough through debris to try and locate both survivors and bodies. So far, the death toll stands at 157, while over 5,000 people are said to have been injured during the blast. According to the Lebanese Red Cross, at least 100 people are still missing, most of whom were workers at the port, where the explosion took place.
The blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of highly volatile ammonium nitrate, which was stored at a warehouse in the city’s port for almost seven years.
Here are today’s top developments from Beirut:
Leader denies Hezbollah role in Beirut blast
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says the explosion at the Beirut port reveals nepotism and corruption that can’t be ignored in Lebanon and that those responsible should be brought to justice, reported AP.
Nasrallah denied in a speech on Friday that his group was responsible for Tuesday’s blast or exercised any power at the port. He was responding to claims that his group may have stored explosives at the port.
Still, Nasrallah didn’t rule out a missile attack or an act of sabotage. He said that storing explosive materials like ammonium nitrate at the port for so long means “it is partially an issue of negligence, corruption, nepotism” that should not be ignored.
Nasrallah added that if there is more confidence in an investigation carried out by Lebanon’s military, then so be it. He said nothing about an international investigation, which has been suggested and supported by the French and other Lebanese politicians.
Nasrallah also said his group’s domestic opponents are using the blast to blame Hezbollah and to turn public opinion against it. “You will see no results,” he said. (AP)
Pope Francis sends donation to Church of Lebanon
Pope Francis has sent a 250,000-euro (nearly USD 300,000) donation to the Church of Lebanon to help in the aftermath of the explosion.
The Vatican described that donation as “initial aid” that is intended as a sign of the pontiff’s “fatherly closeness to people in serious difficulty.” The aid has been sent through the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Beirut.
The Vatican noted that churches and monasteries were among the buildings destroyed by the blast in the port. Already underway is “an immediate emergency and first aid response” including medical care, shelters for the displaced and center of basic needs made available by the church through various Catholic charities, the Vatican said in announcing the papal donation on Friday.
UN calls for independent probe into explosion
The United Nations Human Rights Office has called for an independent investigation into the explosion that tore through the streets of Beirut on Tuesday. A UN spokesperson said that the country was faced with a “triple tragedy of a socio-economic crisis, Covid-19 and the ammonium nitrate explosion”, AP reported.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Spokesperson Rupert Colville stated that a separate probe was important as “victims’ calls for accountability must be heard”.
He also urged the international community to “step up” and help Lebanon in its time of need by responding quickly and providing sustained aid. He went on to urge Lebanese leaders to “overcome political stalemates and address the grievances of the population”.
French team begins investigation
A 22-member French team of investigators has launched its probe into the explosion in Beirut. Based on information gathered so far, a senior French police official has said that while the explosion appears to be an accident, it is too early to know for sure, AP reported.
France’s second senior-most forensic police official Dominique Abbenanti has said that the death toll is expected to grow in the coming days as rescue operations continue in full swing.
Speaking about the scale of the investigation, the chief of a unit involved in the investigation, Eric Berot, said, “It is enormous. It’s a titanic job.” He added that the probe was further complicated by the pre-existing political and economic crisis in the country.
Lebanese protesters clash with police
As hundreds of Beirut residents stormed the streets and demanded the resignation of the Lebanese government, security forces were deployed in large numbers to disperse the growing crowds. Demonstrators and law enforcement authorities were seen clashing on the streets of Beirut Thursday, Reuters reported.
While security forces in riot gear used tear gas, protesters allegedly set fires, vandalised stores and attacked the officers with stones. Several people were left wounded in the clashes, as per reports.
How an unscheduled port visit led to disaster
The chemicals that went up in flames in Beirut’s deadliest peace-time explosion arrived in the Lebanese capital seven years ago on a leaky Russian-leased cargo ship that, according to its captain, should never have stopped there. “They were being greedy,” said Boris Prokoshev, who was captain of the Rhosus in 2013 when he says the owner told him to make an unscheduled stop in Lebanon to pick up extra cargo. Prokoshev said the ship was carrying 2,750 tonnes of a highly combustible chemical from Georgia to Mozambique when the order came to divert to Beirut on its way through the Mediterranean.
EU chief to arrive in Beirut tomorrow
European Council President Charles Michel is expected to land in Beirut on Saturday to lend the bloc’s support after the devastating explosion razed large parts of the city and left an estimated 300,000 homeless.
“Traveling to #Beirut tomorrow to convey Europe’s solidarity with the people in #Lebanon,” Michel tweeted today.
Shocked and saddened, we stand with all those affected and will provide help.
Will meet with President Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Berri and President of Council of Ministers Diab. pic.twitter.com/bKdULdPSNE
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) August 7, 2020
He is expected to meet with President Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and the President of the Council of Ministers Hassan Diab.
US pledges over $17 million in disaster aid for Lebanon
The United States has pledged more than $17 million in initial disaster aid for Lebanon, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday. The US embassy in the country announced that the aid would include food assistance, medical supplies and financial assistance for the Lebanese Red Cross.
“Announcements of additional aid and assistance are forthcoming,” an official statement read.
Lebanon faces food crisis as blast destroys only port-based grains silo
Lebanon’s only port-based grains silo was destroyed in the massive blast that rocked the capital city of Beirut on Tuesday, resulting in a significant food shortage in the country, Reuters reported.
Earlier plans to set up a second silo at the Tripoli port were scrapped years ago due to a shortage of funds, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Lebanon said.
“There are smaller storage sites within the private sector millers because they have to store wheat before it is milled into flour,” Maurice Saade said. “In terms of grain silos, that was the only major one.”
George and Amal Clooney donate USD 100,000 to Beirut blast relief efforts
Hollywood star George Clooney and his wife, Amal, who is a native of Beirut, have pledged USD 100,000 to a number of charities in Lebanon, two days after a massive explosion occurred in the country’s capital city. According to Entertainment Tonight, the donation will be divided equally among three charitable organisations to help assist in relief efforts.
“We’re both deeply concerned for the people of Beirut and the devastation they’ve faced in the last few days. Three charitable organisations we’ve found are providing essential relief on the ground: the Lebanese Red Cross, Impact Lebanon, and Baytna Baytak. (PTI)