Dozens dead, thousands injured in massive Beirut explosion


Staff member
Dozens dead, thousands injured in massive Beirut explosion
Israel offers Lebanon humanitarian relief as investigation into cause of explosion continues.
AUGUST 4, 2020

A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the center of Beirut killed dozens, injured over 2,500 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse. "Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's approval of humanitarian and medical assistance to Lebanon, the prime minister instructed the head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat to talk to the UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov to find out what else Israel can do to help Lebanon," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office wrote in a statement.

Following the explosion, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi conveyed via diplomatic and security channels Israel's offer to provide humanitarian relief and medical support to the Lebanese people. Israeli defense officials denied that Israel was connected to the explosion, which came as the IDF was on high alert along the northern border in anticipation of a Hezbollah attack. Additionally, Ziv Medical Center announced that it is "experienced and prepared" to assist in any way possible.

Multiple videos from the area showed a plume of smoke rising near the coastline and then a large blast and shockwave. Buildings throughout the area were damaged in the blast, including media offices and Lebanon’s electrical company. Video and pictures from the scene showed windows blown out and debris strewn in buildings and streets throughout Lebanon’s capital. Some buildings in the area collapsed and emergency forces rushed to rescue those trapped in the rubble. Electrical outages were reported throughout the capital hampering search and rescue efforts.

Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble. "What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe," the head of Lebanon's Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. "There are victims and casualties everywhere - in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion."

"I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street," said a Reuters witness. Lebanese President Michel Aoun called the Supreme Council of Defense for an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening. Ambulances were called in from around the country and the Lebanese Army sent reinforcements to the area. Some 30 Red Cross teams are operating in the area. Lebanese citizens were asked to donate blood if possible and doctors were asked to come immediately and help treat the wounded.

Hospitals in the capital were overwhelmed with the injured and began treating people in hallways and transferring other wounded people outside of Beirut. Injuries, damage and deaths were reported on streets and in buildings throughout Beirut. The source of the explosion remained unclear. Initial reports indicated that the fire occurred in a warehouse storing fireworks and video from the scene appeared to show fireworks igniting shortly before the blast. Additional reports claim that a nearby warehouse was storing explosive chemicals that had been confiscated at the port. Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. The minister later told Al Jadeed TV ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.

Lebanon's General Security director told Al-Hadath that reports that the explosion was caused by fireworks were "ridiculous" and that the explosion involved high-quality explosives. The Interior Ministry stated that the explosive being stored at the warehouse was ammonium nitrate and that customs should be asked why it was being stored there. An odd smell was noticed in the area after the explosion, according to Al-Mayadeen. "Due to the explosion that rocked #Beirut Port today, one of our Maritime Task Force ships was damaged, leaving some naval peacekeepers injured. #UNIFIL is assessing the situation & stands ready to provide assistance & support to the Lebanese Government," United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) tweeted on Tuesday.

Sources from Hezbollah told OTV Lebanon that there was "no truth" to reports that the explosion was caused by an Israeli strike on Hezbollah weapons at the port. Hezbollah operatives were seen at the port after the explosion, according to Al-Arabiya. Al-Arabiya reported that the explosion occurred at a weapons depot belonging to Hezbollah. Ali Choeib, a reporter for the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar said that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah was scheduled to speak on Tuesday night, but cancelled due to the explosion. Fighter jets were spotted over Tel Aviv after the explosion, according to Channel 12 news. The IDF has been on high alert in the North ever since Hezbollah operatives tried crossing into Israel last week. Late Monday night, the IDF struck multiple targets throughout Syria in response to an attempt by a terror cell in Syria to plant an explosive device along the border fence with Israel.

"We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time," President Reuven Rivlin tweeted on Tuesday night. Opposition head Yair Lapid sent a message in English and Arabic saying “I send my deepest condolences to the residents of Beirut during this difficult time and wish a speedy recovery to all who were injured.” Additionally, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tweeted that "this is the time to transcend any conflict." The Trump administration is closely tracking the deadly explosion in Beirut, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told a news briefing on Tuesday, but she offered no details about the causes of the blast.

The European Union, United States, Cyprus and a number of other countries offered support after the disaster. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced a national day of mourning on Wednesday for the victims of the explosion. A significant internet outage was reported in Lebanon following reports of the explosion, according to internet watchdog NetBlocks. It is unclear what caused the outage. The former home of the late Lebanese president Rafik Hariri, who was killed 15 years ago in an alleged Hezbollah-Iranian attack, is located near where the explosion took place. His son, former prime minister Saad Hariri, was in offices near the site, but was not injured in the incident, according to LBCI. A number of members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at the Hague for planning and arranging the attack in which a truck carrying 3,000 kg of high-grade explosives was blown up next to Hariri's motorcade, killing him and 21 others. A verdict is expected to be issued by the court on Friday.