Home / Lebanon / Beirut divided over international inqurey and causes of blast – UPDATED

Beirut divided over international inqurey and causes of blast – UPDATED

The United Nations has not received any requests to investigate the deadly explosion in Beirut’s port, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday after French President Emmanuel Macron called for an international inquiry.

Dozens are still missing after Tuesday’s blast in the Lebanese capital that killed at least 154 people, injured 5,000 and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes, hammering a nation already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.

Initial Lebanese probes have pointed to an ammonium nitrate cargo, which was abandoned in Beirut, as the source of the blast. During a visit to Beirut on Thursday, Macron said that a transparent international inquiry was needed.

“We would be willing to consider such a request if we were to receive one. Nothing like that has been received, however,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Friday that a Lebanese investigation into the blast would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference or if it was due to negligence or an accident.

 

UPDATES

Lebanon’s president said on Friday its investigation into the biggest blast in Beirut’s history would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference, as residents sought to rebuild shattered homes and lives.

Rescuers sifted rubble in a race to find anyone still alive after Tuesday’s port explosion that killed 154 people, injured 5,000, destroyed a swathe of the Mediterranean city and sent seismic shockwaves around the region.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun told local media.

Aoun, who had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port, said the investigation would also weigh if the blast was due to negligence or an accident. Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.

While the United States has said it did not rule out an attack, Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has denied any role. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the cause was unclear, but compared the blast to a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, denied what he said were “preconceived” comments both domestically and abroad that the Iran-backed group had arms stored at the port.

He called for a fair investigation and strict accountability for anyone responsible without any political cover.

“Even if a plane struck, or if it was an intentional act, if it turns out this nitrate had been at the port for years in this way, it means part of the case is absolutely negligence and corruption,” he said.

The customs director and a predecessor were arrested later on Friday.

At Beirut’s Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, next to Hariri’s grave, chief cleric Amin Al Kurdi told worshippers in a Friday sermon that Lebanese leaders bore responsibility.

“Who is the criminal, who is the killer behind the Beirut explosion?” he said. “Only God can protect, not the corrupt … The army only protects the leaders.”

Security forces fired tear gas at a crowd in Beirut on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the ruling elite, who have presided over an economic collapse. The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.

‘WHERE IS THE STATE?’

“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” said Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old.

His family home is in Gemmayze, a district a few hundred metres from the warehouses where 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored for years near a densely populated area.

A security source and local media previously said the fire that caused the blast was ignited by welding work.

Volunteers swept up debris from the streets of Beirut, which still bears scars from a 1975-1990 civil war.

For many, the explosion was symptomatic of years of neglect and corruption. “The problem is this government and all governments before it,” said Dr. Mohammed Kalifa, 31.

Officials have said the blast, whose impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kms) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion. That is a bill Lebanon cannot pay after already defaulting on a mountain of debt – exceeding 150% of economic output – and with talks stalled on a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund.

Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and ceilings, have been overwhelmed.

“I lived through part of the civil war. I saw people being shot in front of me. But never has there been such a horror,” said Dr. Assem Al Hajj at Beirut’s Clemenceau hospital, which he said had treated 400 victims.

HUNTING THE MISSING

As exhausted rescuers combed wreckage to find any survivors, grieving families camped outside the port where their loved ones were last seen. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.

“We would like to go inside the port to look for my son but we can’t get permission,” said Elias Marouni, describing his son George, a 30-year-old army officer.

One weeping mother called a prime-time TV programme to plead with authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found hours later: dead.

Dozens are still unaccounted for.

In Beirut’s Karantina district, a Polish rescue team took a break near a once three-storey building that was completely flattened. One woman and her two teenage daughters were killed, a neighbour said.

Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head of a Virgin Mary statue was blown off.

“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked and his shin wrapped in a bandage.

“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here? The economy is zero.”

After the blast destroyed Lebanon’s only major grain silo, U.N. agencies helped provide emergency food and medical aid.

Aid offers have also poured in from Arab states, Western nations, the Vatican and beyond. But none, so far, addresses the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.

UPDATES

Hezbollah’s leader on Friday denied accusations that his Iran-backed movement has arms warehoused at Beirut port, calling for an investigation into the biggest explosion to hit the Lebanese capital.

In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called Tuesday’s explosion “an exceptional event” that required unity and calm. The heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah would make its political position clear after the dust settles, he added.

Nasrallah praised solidarity and aid pouring in from around the world, including a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron. He said this presented an opportunity for Lebanon, already deep in financial crisis.

Rescuers were sifting rubble to try to find anyone still alive after the explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that killed 154 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed a swathe of the Mediterranean city.

President Michel Aoun said the investigation would examine whether the cause was negligence, an accident or outside interference such as a bomb. Officials have said the explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port.

Nasrallah – whose faction is a big backer of the current government along with Aoun and other allies – asked why the ammonium nitrate was at the port no matter the cause of the blast.

“Even if a plane struck, or if it was an intentional act, if it turns out this nitrate had been at the port for years in this way, it means part of the case is absolutely negligence and corruption,” he said.

Israel, which has fought many wars with Hezbollah and is an enemy state of Lebanon, has denied any role in the explosion.

Nasrallah called for a fair investigation to reveal the truth and strict accountability for anyone responsible without any political cover. Otherwise, “that means there is no state.”

He said if political parties trusted the Lebanese military as they say, they should let it investigate the blast, without mentioning an international probe which others have called for.

From right after the blast, he said without naming names, some political powers in Lebanon and the region had sought to blame Hezbollah.

“They came out with preconceived statements… They want to say to Beirut’s people that those who destroyed your homes and killed your children are Hezbollah,” he added.

“I absolutely, categorically deny the presence of any missiles or any material for us in any warehouse at the port.”

UPDATES

Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday he would seek to mobilise Arab efforts to provide support to Lebanon after a massive explosion in the port of Beirut destroyed parts of the capital this week.

Speaking after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he also said reporters that the Cairo-based league of Arab states was ready to assist the investigation into the blast.

“We are ready to help with all our means,” he said, adding that he would take part in an international conference call to be organised by France on Sunday to discuss aid for Lebanon.

The death toll from Tuesday’s port explosion stands at 154, according to an official estimate on Friday, but is expected to rise further, with more than 5,000 people injured, some seriously.

UPDATES

The United Nations has not received any requests to investigate the deadly explosion in Beirut’s port, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday after French President Emmanuel Macron called for an international inquiry.

Dozens are still missing after Tuesday’s blast in the Lebanese capital that killed at least 154 people, injured 5,000 and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes, hammering a nation already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.

Initial Lebanese probes have pointed to an ammonium nitrate cargo, which was abandoned in Beirut, as the source of the blast. During a visit to Beirut on Thursday, Macron said that a transparent international inquiry was needed.

“We would be willing to consider such a request if we were to receive one. Nothing like that has been received, however,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could also establish an inquiry if mandated by a U.N. legislative body such as the 193-member General Assembly or the 15-member Security Council.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Friday that a Lebanese investigation into the blast would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference or if it was due to negligence or an accident.

Source: Reuters

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