08/05/2020, 14.55
LEBANON
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Beirut is a ‘devastated city', like after a nuclear apocalypse (videos)

by Pierre Balanian

The toll from yesterday’s blasts now stands at 100 dead and more than 4,000 injured, but many people are still missing under collapsed buildings. Some ships in Beirut harbour have dead and injured on board. Hospitals are full, whilst medicine warehouses have been destroyed. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called for help from the international community. Lebanon’s security chief said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, but remains guarded as to possible causes. Israel has denied responsibility. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah postponed an address he was supposed to make.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council held an emergency meeting last night at the Presidential Palace, describing Beirut as a "devastated city" after a double blast struck at 6.15 pm killing at least a hundred people and injuring more than 4,000.

The Council declared a two-week state of emergency and set up a commission of inquiry to shed light on what happened within five days. Lebanon’s military are now in charge of security in Lebanese cities as well as borders and customs.

This morning the city looks like a post-nuclear site. The explosions blew out windows in buildings in every neighbourhood in the capital, cars wrecked or upturned, shop shutters bent, doors torn off their hinges.

People say the force of the explosions was "unprecedented”, with an atomic bomb-like mushroom cloud hovering in the sky for many hours. The explosion in Beirut’s port area sowed destruction within a radius of ten kilometres; but the shock wave was felt and sound heard as far away as Tyre and Cyprus.

Preliminary findings indicate that the blasts took place in a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.

According the official version, the material was originally destined for anti-regime fighters in Syria, but was seized in 2014 in Tripoli (northern Lebanon) and taken to the Port of Beirut. After that, it was forgotten in a warehouse, a virtual ticking bomb.

General Security Directorate chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim has not ruled out any explanation for the explosions.

So far, a hundred bodies have been recovered, whilst the search for more continues. The number of injured has topped 4,000. More and more pictures of missing people are popping up on social media with requests for information.

The apocalyptic scenario has led many analysts to speculate whether it was a small nuclear bomb; others claim to have heard the sound of military planes before the explosions.

Lebanon is now totally isolated from the outside. Beirut’s port area, which handled 80 per cent of the country’s imports, is a wasteland and out of order.

Since the land borders with Syria are also closed, supplies, already in shortage, can only arrive by plane and through the smaller Port of Tripoli.

In the capital, the Karantina (Quarantine) government hospital where COVID-19 patients are treated, located one kilometre from the port, and the Health Ministry’s medicine warehouse were destroyed.

Tonnes of drugs for cancer and HIV patients have gone up in smoke in a country already suffering from a terrible economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the number of casualties is growing by the minute. Entire buildings have collapsed on people who now lie under the rubble. Some people are trapped on ships in the harbour, some at risk of sinking due to damages, sending SOS messages indicating dead and injured on board.

In central Beirut, Nazar Najarian, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Phalanges Party (Kataeb), died from head injuries caused by flying glass. The Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Lebanon was among the diplomats who were injured.

Local hospitals are at full capacity. Lebanon’s Civil Protection, military and Red Cross are doing everything possible to cope but the disaster far outstrips the country's capabilities.

In an official statement, Israel denied any involvement in the explosions. However, in Beirut people are talking about a mysterious tweet that appeared in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s account three hours before the explosions in which he threatened retaliation against Hezbollah. Another Netanyahu tweet late yesterday evening offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon.

Iraq was the first country to come to Lebanon's rescue with medicines, but messages of support and promises of help are coming from around the world.

In a short address, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for international help from Lebanon’s friends and brother countries, promising not to stop until those responsible for the disaster are punished.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah postponed a long-awaited televised speech, he was due to deliver today, a few days before an International Tribunal, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, was set to rule on Rafic Hariri’s assassination. The latter is expected to blame members of Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

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