Tag Archives: Beirut

COVID-19: Lebanon medicines shortage inflict fears.

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Some Lebanese media had quoted a study suggesting it might be a miracle cure for Covid-19 — a claim for which there is insufficient evidence, according to health agencies.

With Lebanon’s economy in a tailspin and the coronavirus pandemic wreaking chaos, panic-buying has gripped pharmacies, creating shortages and a flourishing black market.

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All manner of pharmaceutical products have started disappearing from the shelves in recent weeks, including some of the most widely needed.

Mostly imported, they include any medicine thought to fight symptoms of Covid-19, pills for patients with chronic diseases, baby formula and even vitamin supplements.

One customer, Abbas, 37, said he was giving up as he stepped out of a large Beirut pharmacy.

“I asked for two things,” he said — aspirin and an antibiotic. “I found neither.”

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Abbas said he would have to buy them at much higher prices on the black market, adding dejectedly that the store had also run out of the special shampoo he had been buying for years.

“This country is really going to the dumps,” he said.

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Lebanon was already facing its worst economic crisis in decades and dollar shortages before the pandemic.

Now, with Covid-19 overwhelming hospitals and little public trust authorities can secure vaccines any time soon, people have been rushing to pharmacies to buy medicine.

But even drugs that are rumoured to help treat Covid-19 and oxygen tanks are becoming scarce, as people stock up, anticipating they may have no alternative but to sit out an infection at home.

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As boxes disappear from shelves, a black market has emerged, offering medicine or medical equipment — sometimes counterfeits — at many times the normal price.

Black market
Inside the Mazen Pharmacy, one of Beirut’s largest, a pharmacist turned a customer away, saying the medication was “out of stock”.

Pharmacy owner Mazen Bissat said: “People are scared medicine will run out, so they’re stockpiling at home enough for a month, even six months, according to what they can afford.

“There’s a medicine shortage, and suppliers have not delivered on quantities requested by the pharmacies.”

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He said the makers of a popular, over-the-counter painkiller “just delivered 300 boxes. So we only display 10 a day to be able to make them last until the end of the month,” he said.

To slow the depletion, the health ministry has ordered pharmacists to sell some medication only on prescription, and suppliers to limit deliveries to pharmacies.

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Karim Gebara, the head of the medicine importers syndicate, said Aspirin demand had skyrocketed.

Two companies “delivered 500,000 boxes in January, whereas normal demand in 2020 was just 200,000”, he said. “But even with that, there isn’t any left.”

When people cannot find medicine in shops, they sometimes turn elsewhere.

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Gebara said there had been a run on Ivermectin, which is used to treat parasite infections.

Some Lebanese media had quoted a study suggesting it might be a miracle cure for Covid-19 — a claim for which there is insufficient evidence, according to health agencies.

Customers browse the aisles for medicine at a pharmacy in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 2, 2021. – With the economy in a tailspin and the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking chaos, panic-buying has gripped Lebanon’s pharmacies, creating shortages and a flourishing black market. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

This had led to “the emergence of a black market”, said Gebara, as people started smuggling it in from abroad, with a box selling for the equivalent of $35.

But even after an importer obtained permission to bring it to Lebanon at a subsidised cost of $1, Ivermectin is still hard to find and the informal market for it is thriving.

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‘Alarming’
Gebara said hoarding by manufacturers was one problem, among others.

We are facing “delayed money transfers abroad from the central bank”, he said.

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“If the manufacturer abroad does not receive his dues on time, he delays the shipment.”

With dwindling foreign currency reserves, the central bank is struggling to continue funding key imports at a preferential exchange rate, and fears have risen that medicine subsidies will be lifted soon.

Moreover, subsidised medicine is being smuggled out of Lebanon, Gebara said.

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In recent months, travellers have been stopped at Beirut airport trying to fly out to Egypt or Iraq with bags filled with subsidised medicine — some of which turned up as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All in all, “it’s an alarming situation that keeps on feeding off itself”, Gebara added.

Expecting subsidies to be lifted, some suppliers have been accused of holding on to their stock so they can sell it later at a higher set price.

In January, the economy ministry seized such a stockpile of baby milk formula.

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After visiting several pharmacies in and around Beirut, 36-year-old Nadine said she still had not found powdered milk for her baby girl.

“They’re even profiteering off baby milk… You can find an alternative to painkillers. But milk is essential.”

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#Newsworthy

Beirut blast: German firm heads to Lebanon.

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In November, Lebanon signed a contract with Combi Lift, which was already working at the port, to clear containers carrying hazardous chemicals.

A German firm has treated 52 containers of hazardous material at Beirut port and will ship them out of Lebanon, the German ambassador said Saturday, months after a monster port blast.

Andreas Kindl said on Twitter that the heavy lift transport company Combi Lift “has treated 52 containers of hazardous and dangerous chemical material that had been accumulated over decades and were a threat to the people in Beirut”.

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“They stand ready to be shipped to” Germany, he added.

The August 4 explosion of a stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had been left to languish haphazardly at the Beirut port for years killed more than 200 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and ravaged swaths of the capital.

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Lebanon’s worst peace-time disaster sparked concerns over remaining shipments of hazardous chemicals still stored at the blast site.

In November, Lebanon signed a contract with Combi Lift, which was already working at the port, to clear containers carrying hazardous chemicals.

The containers, which include corrosive acids, had been stored in an open-air cargo zone for over a decade under the supervision of Lebanon’s customs authority, officials said at the time.

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If they catch fire “Beirut will be wiped out”, interim port chief Bassem al-Kaisi said in November.

Kindl on Saturday published pictures on Twitter showing fraying containers at the port and what appears to be chemicals leaking from some of them.

Lebanese authorities have said Combi Lift will ship the chemicals in special containers as part of a $3.6 million deal, with the port authority reportedly to pay $2 million of that.

Lebanon’s army and port authority have said they do not have the expertise to handle such a process.

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Lebanon has launched an investigation into the August blast amid public anger against a political class widely blamed for the tragedy.

At least 25 people have been arrested, including the port chief and the head of the customs authority, but no politician has been held to account.

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#Newsworthy

Lebanon: 6 months after heavy Beirut blasts; scars remain fresh.

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Achkar laughed ironically when asked if she had received anything from the government. She said she was fortunate, and though she could not afford rebuilding, she had a place to stay outside of Beirut.

Six months after a massive explosion devastated Beirut, the scars of destruction remain everywhere.

The dire state of Lebanon’s economy has handicapped rebuilding efforts, with victims and survivors saying the government continues to offer no reconstruction aid while failing to determine who was responsible.

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“The way that the government is treating this is insulting,” said Mireille Khoury, whose 15-year-old son Elias died in the August 4 explosion.

Khoury is among the many people in the Lebanese capital who are calling for an independent international investigation.

They believe a Lebanese court will fail to hold powerful figures to account or competently investigate the explosion that killed some 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 people – many severely – and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

“After six months, the investigation here in Lebanon has gone nowhere,” she said.

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While a Lebanese judge has issued indictments and charges in the case, no one thus far has been tried or convicted in relation to the explosion, which was fuelled by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored improperly in a warehouse at Beirut’s port for six years.

The inquiry, led by Judge Fadi Sawan, stalled in December after he issued indictments for Hassan Diab, who was prime minister of the country at the time of the explosion, and three former cabinet ministers.

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Diab refused to show up for questioning, and two of the former cabinet members sued in Lebanon’s Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court – to have Sawan removed.

A general view shows the damage following the blast in Beirut’s port area on August 4, 2020 [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

That suit has since failed, and in January the Court of Cassation ruled that the investigation could continue, but it is currently paused because Lebanon is under a 24-hour curfew until at least February 8 to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Even so, many doubt any court proceeding in Lebanon will result in justice.

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“There is a question about the independence of a Lebanese inquiry, after decades of United Nations reports that the Lebanese system is a deeply flawed system,” said Antonia Mulvey, the executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, which is advising a group of victims and survivors of the explosion.

“At this stage, we really must be shining a spotlight on the lack of access to justice and also that victims and their families have not been consulted in the proceedings to date and not had their voices heard.”

Sawan has so far charged more than 30 people with criminal negligence for failing to remove the dangerous cargo from the port, but in a statement on Wednesday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the prosecution has failed to protect the rights of those charged and detained in the case.

“The court handling the case appears to have run roughshod over detained defendants’ due process rights, signaling that it is unable or unwilling to deliver justice,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW.

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“Sawan has, since August, brought charges against 37 people, 25 of whom are detained under conditions that appear to violate their due process rights. Those detained are mostly mid to low-level customs, port, and security officials; and their families and lawyers say that the judicial authorities have not yet presented the specific charges or evidence against them,” the statement added.

Diab resigned from his post six days after the explosion as public anger boiled over into street protests, but he remains in a caretaker capacity as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has so far failed to form a government.

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Though it is not rare for Lebanon to remain for months at a time without a fully functioning government while the country’s factions bicker over cabinet lineups, the months since the explosion have been particularly tumultuous.

The country’s COVID-19 outbreak has worsened dramatically, and the caretaker government has had trouble striking a balance between restricting the spread of the virus and keeping the fragile economy alive. Late last month, demonstrations in the northern city of Tripoli against coronavirus restrictions and the lack of government turned violent, leaving one protester dead.

Economic woes, slow rebuilding
Meanwhile, many buildings look much as they did six months ago, when survivors and bodies were still being pulled from the rubble. The effects of inaction are also visible, as winter rains have fully brought down some buildings that were structurally damaged by the explosion.

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“A month ago, the building next to us collapsed,” said Khalaf Abbas Faraj, a Syrian refugee who lives with his family about 500 metres (1,640 feet) from the site of the explosion in Beirut’s Karatina neighbourhood, adjacent to the port.

Faraj said “only one wall” of the one-room apartment he shares with wife and four of his five children remained intact after the explosion. All of them sustained minor injuries, and his youngest daughter, six-year-old Aline, remains terrified of loud noises.

“My daughter always asks if it’s going to happen again,” he said.

On the other side of the port, as she surveyed the now-empty building in the Gemmayze neighbourhood where she had lived for 50 years, Simone Achkar praised God she and her sister had survived the explosion with only minor wounds. One of her neighbours was killed and another paralysed when the building next door to hers collapsed.

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Achkar laughed ironically when asked if she had received anything from the government. She said she was fortunate, and though she could not afford rebuilding, she had a place to stay outside of Beirut.

Lebanon’s currency has lost approximately 80 percent of its value against the US dollar in the past year, making imports of construction materials – everything from window glass to aluminium to steel – prohibitively expensive and slowing down rebuilding.

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“All the materials are priced in dollars, and we are in a very difficult economic situation, and the material is very expensive, yet it is a necessity to make people return safely to their homes,” said Mohamad Ghotmeh, the head of CTI Contracting, a firm working on seven projects in the explosion-damaged zone.

Ghotmeh said if it had not been donations by NGOs, nothing would have been rebuilt so far, but that even those funds were not enough.

A man stands next to graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, August 11, 2020 [File: Hannah McKay/Reuters]

“Until now, the government has not funded any private house or private entity to return home,” Ghotmeh said. “Aid was only related to the basic emergencies, food and shelter.”

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Ghotmeh scoffed at an announcement earlier this week by the country’s finance minister that more than $5.5m of reconstruction aid would soon be disbursed.

“The ministers do a lot of press releases, but nothing is tangible,” Ghotmeh said.

Among those who have managed to rebuild are the family of 23-year-old Laura Sayegh, whose mother spent three weeks in a coma and was blinded by the explosion.

“We’re still very good compared to others who lost a family member,” Sayegh said.

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When asked about the government’s inaction after the explosion and the fact that the event had occurred in the first place, Sayegh’s response underscored how little Lebanese have come to expect from the state.

“To be honest – I’m not surprised.”

Story Source : Al Jazeera

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#Newsworthy

Lebanese recycle glass from Beirut explosions

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Standing in a pile of broken glass in northern Lebanon, a man forced shovel-loads of shards retrieved from Beirut after the massive explosion at its port into a red-hot furnace.

Melted down at a factory in second city Tripoli, they re-emerged as molten glass ready to be recycled into traditional slim-necked water jugs.

The August 4 port explosion ripped through countless glass doors and windows when it laid waste to whole Beirut neighbourhoods, killing at least 190 people and wounding thousands more.

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Volunteers, non-governmental groups and entrepreneurs have tried to salvage at least part of the tonnes of glass that littered the streets, some of it through recycling at Wissam Hammoud’s family’s glass factory.

“Here we have glass from the Beirut explosion,” said Hammoud, deputy head at the United Glass Production Company (Uniglass), as several men sorted through a mound of shards outside the building.

“Organisations are bringing it to us so that we can remanufacture it,” said the 24-year-old.

As workers washed and stacked jars behind him, Hammoud said that between 20 and 22 tonnes of glass had been brought to the factory, a hive of rhythmic activity centred around the furnace that burns at 900-1,200 degrees Celsius (1,650-2,190 Fahrenheit).

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Nearby, three men produced jars stamped out of a mold in a carefully choreographed sequence, while another two handled the more delicate process of blowing and forming the traditional Lebanese pitchers.

“We work 24 hours a day,” Hammoud said. “We can’t stop because stopping costs too much money.”

  • Helping local industry –
    Ziad Abichaker, CEO of environmental engineering company Cedar Environmental, has spearheaded multiple glass recycling initiatives in Lebanon.

In the first days after the blast, he teamed up with civil society organisations and a host of volunteers to come up with a plan to keep as much glass as possible out of landfills already overburdened by a decades-old solid waste crisis.

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“We decided that at least part of the shattered glass… our local industries should benefit from as a raw material,” Abichaker told the press.

“We’re diverting glass from ending up in the landfill, we’re supplying our local industries with free raw material,” he added.

According to him, more than 5,000 tonnes of glass was shattered by the explosion.

From mid-August to September 2, almost 58 tonnes were sent for reuse at Uniglass and Koub/Golden Glass in Tripoli.

Abichaker said he hoped, with funding, to bring the total to 250 tonnes.

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  • ‘Tip of the iceberg’ –
    At the volunteer hub dubbed the Base Camp in Beirut’s hard-hit Mar Mikhael district, young men and women kitted out with sturdy shoes, masks and heavy gloves sort the glass, pulling bits of detritus out of the piled shards under a scorching sun.

Anthony Abdel Karim, who had launched months before the blast an upcycling glass project called Annine Fadye or “Empty Bottle” in Arabic, coordinates the operations.

We have “mountains of waste that are piling up in Beirut, they’re mixed with everything. Glass and rubble and metal are mixed with organic waste… and this is not healthy,” he said.

“We don’t have proper recycling in Lebanon.”

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Abdel Karim was drawn to recycling glass after seeing huge numbers of bottles being thrown out while working in events management in Beirut’s nightlife, one of the city’s calling cards first quieted by the pandemic and economic crisis, and now battered by the blast.

Glass from the explosion poses different challenges from bottles, as much of it is dirty, so the initiative focuses on gathering glass from inside homes and other buildings, setting up a hotline where people can request pickup.

Abdel Karim said they aim to find other ways of recycling the glass that is not suitable to send to Tripoli, possibly by crushing it to be used in cement or other materials.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting just a fraction of the glass so far had been collected and repurposed. “It needs a lot of time, we know that.”


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: After days of scrutiny, ‘no signs of life’ [Lebanon]

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After three days of digging through rubble of a building, rescuers say there is no hope of finding someone alive.

Rescue workers digging through the rubble of a Beirut building for the third day have said there is no longer hope of finding someone alive more than a month after a huge port explosion shattered Lebanon’s capital.

About 50 rescue workers and volunteers, including a specialist team from Chile, had been working for three days to locate any survivors after sensors on Thursday detected signs of breathing and heat.

“Technically speaking, there are no signs of life inside the building,” Francisco Lermanda, the head of volunteer rescue group Topos Chile, said in a news conference on Saturday evening, adding that rescuers had combed 95 percent of the building.

The signs of life picked up by their sensitive equipment in the past two days, Lermanda said, were the breaths of fellow rescuers who were already inside the building. He said efforts would now focus on clearing the rubble and finding remains.

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“We never stop with even 1 percent of hope,” Lermanda said. “We never stop until the job is done.”

The rescue efforts had dominated local and social media for days, as the Lebanese were transfixed, desperate for a miracle. But none came.

But even the faint hope of a miracle caught the imagination of a country already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

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“I was not aware I needed a miracle that much. Please God, give Beirut this miracle it deserves,” said Selim Mourad, a 32-year-old filmmaker.

‘Crumbling’ building
The August 4 blast killed some 200 people, injured 6,000 more, and devastated whole neighbourhoods. One month on, seven people are still listed as missing.

The authorities held ceremonies on Friday to mark a month since the explosion tore into the city.

‘Technically speaking, there are no signs of life inside the building,’ said Francisco Lermanda, head of volunteer rescue group Topos Chile [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

The ruined building where the search was continuing lies between the residential districts of Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, among the hardest-hit areas by the blast and home to many old buildings that crumbled as the shockwave ripped through.

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Work was slow, rescue workers said, as the badly damaged building was at risk of complete collapse.

“The building is really crumbling, it’s scary and there’s a lot of danger to the team,” said George Abou Moussa, head of Lebanon’s civil defence, on Saturday evening.

Moussa in the morning had said the chances of finding someone alive were “very low”.

Workers used shovels and their hands to dig, while mechanical diggers and a crane lifted heavy debris. Scanning equipment was also used to create 3D images of the wrecked building.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Survivors search enters third day.

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Rescuers continue frantic search for potential survivor under the rubble of a building demolished by August 4 blast.

Rescuers in the Lebanese capital have resumed work in a bid to determine if there is a person trapped under piles of debris of a building that collapsed a month ago following a deadly explosion.

One month after the massive blast at Beirut’s port devastated the city, a frantic search for a possible survivor entered its third day on Saturday after hopes of success had dwindled a day earlier.

Chilean rescue workers on Thursday said they had detected a sign of life from under the rubble of a collapsed building in the Gemmayze neighbourhood. A sniffer dog named Flash – brought to Beirut by the Chilean rescuers – was the first to respond to a scent at the site.

Electronic sensors were then brought in to examine the area and signals indicating someone was trapped below were detected.

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The Chilean volunteers are part of a Mexican rescue non-profit named “Los Topos” and are being aided by Lebanese civil defence volunteers.

Francisco Lermanda, leader of the Chilean “Topos” rescue team, which is leading the search effort, told reporters on Friday evening he could neither confirm nor rule out that there was anyone alive under the huge pile of debris.

“We have to reach three metres, this is where we received the signal,” he said.

He added that audio equipment detected what appeared to be weak breathing – initially between 18 and 20 breaths per minute – and that the specialists told them that it indicated a person could be about three metres deep.

Lermanda said digging crews were tunnelling towards the location from multiple directions and had reached 1.2 metres deep so far.

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‘Not giving up’
Lebanese engineer Riad al-Assad, who is helping the Chilean team, on Friday said the team “did a test between 4:30 and 6:30 pm local time but they did not hear anything, they repeated it at 8:30 pm and again the same result”.

Al-Assad said work was briefly paused late on Friday since the Chilean team had been working for 48 hours non-stop.

Reporting from Beirut, Noble Reporters Media said the Chileans had decided not to “give up”.

Khodr said some people believe the inability to determine whether there is a person trapped beneath the rubble was because there were so many people in the area on Friday night, with many using mobile phones that were “jamming” the rescue team’s equipment.

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“A short while ago, they used laser scanners,” she said. “The Chilean team are not giving up, they said … even if it’s just a 1 percent chance, we will continue until we prove or discount proof of life.”

According to Khodr, people are “furious” and are questioning why local authorities have not cleared the debris a month after the explosion.

“What is clear is that the government has not been present,” she said. “They have been absent in the rescue efforts, in the relief efforts … as well as the rebuilding efforts.”

The search came as Lebanon on Friday marked a month since the devastating explosion on August 4, which killed some 200 people, wounded 6,000 others and left a country already reeling from a severe financial crisis in a state of shock.

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On Friday, people in Beirut gathered for a vigil and prayer. The Lebanese army stood for a minute of silence at the port alongside family members who lost their loved ones in the explosion.

At another event near the blast site, white roses were distributed to the families of the dead and wounded, and religious leaders representing the main sects in Lebanon prayed.

A minute of silence was also observed by people passing the road near the port, while traffic came to a standstill at exactly 6:07 pm (15:07 GMT) – the time the blast occurred.

The tragedy was caused by ammonium nitrate which was poorly stored in a port warehouse.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Chilean team sense ‘signs of life’ beneath rubble of building after month

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Chile rescue team says it has found signs someone may still be alive beneath the rubble of a collapsed building.


A Chilean rescue team said it detected signs of life underneath the rubble of a building that collapsed in the massive explosion that tore through Beirut one month ago.

A member of the TOPOS CHILE rescue team told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media that, using a scanning machine, it discovered signs of a pulse and breathing near the ground floor of the collapsed building.

He said it most likely belonged to a child, adding that the team also found the presence of at least one body.

TOPOS CHILE rescue team member told Al Jazeera that they had discovered signs of a pulse and breathing near the ground floor of the collapsed building using a sensitive scanning machine [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

The August 4 explosion, that killed 191 people and injured more than 6,000, destroyed much of Lebanon’s capital.

The Chilean team had been visiting streets in the capital as part of a mission to secure buildings before the reconstruction phase when one of their search dogs ran towards a building and alerted them of human presence, Akram Nehme, member of the Achrafieh 2020 NGO that helped bring TOPOS CHILE to Beirut, told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.

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Edward Bitar, a member of NGO Live Love Lebanon working with TOPOS CHILE in Lebanon, said they had detected 18 breath cycles per minute emanating from under the rubble using the sensor.

“We are trying to keep hopes low. If someone is found, it would be a miracle,” said Bitar.

TOPOS CHILE often heads to disaster zones, including to Japan’s Fukushima region in 2011 when a nuclear reactor exploded.

The August 4 explosion that killed 191 people and injured more than 6,000 destroyed much of Lebanon’s capital [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

In 2010, it helped rescue a man in Haiti after he spent 27 days in the rubble caused by an earthquake.

Looking for life
Bitar said the owner of the building had attested to the fact that no one was inside.

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But a number of people on the scene said they had alerted security forces of the smell of decomposition emanating from the building in the days after the blast, adding that security forces did not search the rubble.

Official search-and-rescue efforts have long-since been called off.

Thursday’s volunteer-led effort started in the morning and continued into the night. The team removed the rubble of the building – stone by stone – with help from Lebanese climbers, firefighters and civil defence.

Rescue workers repeatedly silenced the large crowd to enable their sensor to probe for signs of life, leading an eerie silence to fall over the street.

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For many Lebanese, Thursday’s volunteer-led efforts are just the latest example of state failure, both in the lead-up to the explosion – caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate haphazardly stored at the Beirut port for almost seven years – and in the explosion’s aftermath.

On Thursday, a month after the explosion, Lebanon’s army announced it found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port.

The military said army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.

“Honestly this is why we all walk around believing something else is gonna blow us up. Their incompetence is stunning,” Lebanese activist Bissan Fakih said in a tweet, referring to the country’s political class


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Four tonnes of ammo nitrate found near port. [Lebanon]

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Lebanon’s army said it found the chemical near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month.


Lebanon’s army has found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month, caused by a large stockpile of the same highly explosive chemical, that killed 191 people.

The military said in a statement on Thursday that army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.

Army engineers were “dealing with it”, according to the statement that was carried by the state news agency NNA.

There were no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner.

The find comes almost a month after nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port for six years detonated, wreaking death and destruction.

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Along with 191 people killed, more than 6,000 were injured.

Entire neighbourhoods were devastated, nearly 300,000 people were left homeless as the blast caused damage worth billions of dollars.

Lebanon’s government quit amid public anger in a nation already brought to its knees by an economic crisis.

The public remains anxious that more hazardous materials are being stored badly, putting them at risk.

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Days after the August 4 blast, French and Italian chemical experts working amid the remains of the port identified more than 20 containers carrying dangerous chemicals.

The army later said these containers were moved and stored safely in locations away from the port.

French experts, as well as the FBI, have taken part in the investigation into the explosion at the request of Lebanese authorities.

So far, authorities have detained 25 people over last month’s explosion, most of them port and customs officials.

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Earlier this week, a UN agency warned that more than half of Lebanon’s population risk facing a food crisis in the aftermath of the explosion that compounded the country’s existing woes.

“More than half of the country’s population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year’s end,” the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said.

“Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis,” ESCWA executive secretary, Rola Dashti, said.

Dashti said Lebanon’s government must prioritise the rebuilding of silos at the Beirut port, the country’s largest grain storage.


#Newsworthy…

France leader, Macron gives Lebanon two options.

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In second Beirut visit since deadly blast, French president vows wide-reaching aid, threatens sanctions to coax reforms.


French President Emmanuel Macron presented Lebanon’s political establishment with two choices during a trip that ended Tuesday: implement reforms, and vital international aid will flow plentifully, but continue on the same path, and the doors to assistance will slam shut – and the country’s ossified political leadership may be directly targeted with sanctions.

“I did not come today to give a warning, but I returned to help Lebanon and accompany it to its future,” Macron said on Tuesday, 100 years since colonial France declared the founding of Greater Lebanon.

Macron arrived in Beirut on Monday with the aim of pushing the country’s sectarian leaders to find consensus over reforms and over the need to end decades of corruption and mismanagement that have devastated the country. He pledged to hold an aid conference for the economically-devastated nation at the end of October if reforms are commenced.

His previous visit came just days after a monstrous explosion last month killed 190 people, injured more than 6,000 and wrecked half of the city, causing up to $4.6bn in physical damage, according to a World Bank assessment.

At the time, Macon came bearing a message that change was necessasry if the country was to avoid total collapse.

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“You are at a critical moment in your history where the political system must be reformed,” he said on Tuesday.

“When a country disintegrates, you never know when it will be reborn.”

New PM not a ‘messiah’
Indeed, there is little to celebrate – and much to fear – as Lebanon marks its 100th birthday. In the past year it has witnessed massive protests, deep economic and financial crisis, a surging coronavirus outbreak and one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded.

Since Macron’s last visit, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s flailing government resigned and a new Prime Minister, Mustapha Adib, has been appointed by the country’s establishment under direct French pressure.

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France aimed to ensure that whoever is selected has wide political buy-in, unlike Diab.

Macron admitted that Adib was not a “messiah” and contended that Adib knew that he was backed by “political forces that have lost the confidence of the public”.

Nevertheless, he said Adib was able to form a capable government and to implement the needed reforms. And Macron said he had heard encouraging words from political leaders.

He split Tuesday between ceremonial gestures – a visit to the destroyed Beirut port and planting a cedar tree, the country’s national emblem – and tete-a-tete meetings with politicians, whom he summoned to the ambassador’s residence.

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Macron told reporters that they had pledged to form a government within 15 days – unprecedented in Lebanon’s recent history, where government formation usually take many months.

The government would then have to implement reforms to the crippled electricity sector and the insolvent financial sector within three months, and hold early parliamentary polls within a year.

Macron promised to return by December to follow up on the reform process.

Macron says he plans to return to Lebanon in December [Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AFP]

Sanction threats
If reforms are not implemented, Macron said he would inform the international community that no aid could flow and he would talk openly about those in Lebanon who were blocking change.

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“We will not give Lebanon a carte blanche, or a blank check,” he said.

He also said he did not rule out sanctions against political leaders, but said that France would first have to prove crimes such as corruption or terrorism had been committed.

A western diplomat told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) that Macron was keeping the option of sanctions open as “a stick he can wave” at politicians.

This includes the threat of sanctions against President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, who heads the country’s largest party in terms of its share of seats in parliament.

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However, the source said that there were no sanctions currently being prepared, as the international community waits for the Lebanese response to Macron’s initiative.

All political leaders have so far expressed their openness to the French initiative, including Hezbollah and Aoun. Several leaders have also called for Lebanon to finally make the move to being a secular state – a shift mandated by its constitution – though they have also said this in the past.

Currently, all seats in parliament are allocated by sect, and top state positions are meted out along religious lines.

Macron was repeatedly asked to justify his decision to give Hezbollah a seat at the table by meeting with a top Hezbollah official.

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The Iran-backed armed group and political party is blacklisted as a terrorist group by western nations including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, but France maintains relations with its so-called “political wing”.

Macron said Hezbollah was a major constituent of the Lebanese population, with representation in parliament, and it would be foolish to exclude the group from the reform process.

He said that the next round of reform talks with Lebanon would broach the thorny issue of the group’s arsenal, which rivals that of the Lebanese army.

“Will we get to results directly? I don’t know,” said Macron. “But it shouldn’t be a taboo.”


#Newsworthy…

Lebanon: Security tear gas anti-govt protesters.

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Demonstrators gathered to call for justice over the Beirut blast and rejected the ruling class and new prime minister.


Angry protesters threw rocks and used metal frames to climb over steel walls surrounding Lebanon’s heavily fortified Parliament complex in central Beirut as security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

A smaller group of demonstrators marched towards Parliament after hundreds of others gathered in Martyrs’ Square on Tuesday to demand justice for victims of the devastating port blast and commemorate the centennial anniversary of the creation of Greater Lebanon.

The protests coincided with the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Beirut for the second time since the enormous explosion at the capital’s port last month, which killed at least 190 people, injured thousands, and left 300,000 others homeless.

The two-day visit came after Lebanese leaders named the country’s former ambassador to Berlin, Mustapha Adib, as the new prime minister-designate, tasking him with the formation of a new government in the wake of the blast.

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Protesters, coming from various parts of the country and representing many civil society groups and political movements, chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the government step down.

“We want them gone, all of them gone,” said a young protester as he threw rocks at steel walls.

Firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, security forces pushed back the protesters away from Parliament into Martyrs’ Square. Sporadic clashes erupted between both sides. By late evening, however, only a few dozen demonstrators remained on the streets.

Earlier at Martyrs’ Square, protesters called for early elections, a new electoral law, and an independent government to resolve the prolonged financial crisis and hold those responsible for the August 4 port explosion accountable.

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Many also expressed their rejection for Adib as the country’s new prime minister and Macron’s visit, saying it was a reflection of foreign involvement in the country’s internal affairs.

A couple takes part in anti-government protests calling on the ruling elite to hold those responsible for the Beirut blast accountable [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Ruling class rejected
Nay Elrahi, a 33-year-old university instructor from Mount Lebanon, said she wanted to express her rejection for the ruling elite, including the newly appointed prime minister.

“We are here to say no to the ruling class and to the farcical appointment of Adib. The political parties don’t seem to realise how devastating the blast was,” the activist and protest organiser told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

“They’re proceeding with the same business-as-usual mode, appointing people in an unconstitutional way,” said Elrahi. “This blatant lack of accountability with appointments by political parties for public offices is what got us where we are.

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“Adib has no vision, no plan. He just parachuted into office with the help of an international chaperon.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Rami Finge, a 54-year-old dentist from Tripoli – Adib’s hometown – said while he and a group of 25 other activists came from the northern city to reject Macron’s visit, Adib’s appointment was even more reason for him to participate.

Hundreds of people gathered in Martyrs’ Square to mark the centennial and protest the ruling class [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

“Especially we, the residents of Tripoli, have suffered from this regime. Adib represents the same ruling class which we reject completely,” said Finge, adding he went to school with the newly appointed prime minister.

“He’s not an independent politician, nor is he cut out for this job,” he added.

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Adib was tasked on Monday with forming a new government after he received 90 of 120 votes in favour of his appointment from across the main political parties in power – including Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal and the Future Movements.

A day before his formal appointment, four senior Sunni politicians and former prime ministers – Saad Hariri, Fouad Seniora, Najib Mikati, and Tammam Salam – endorsed Adib for the role, while rumours circulated in local media that Macron had also shown support for Adib.

Adib’s appointment came after his predecessor, Hassan Diab, who came to power by the support of a narrower margin of the country’s ruling elite following anti-government protests that toppled Saad Hariri’s government last year.

Angry protesters use steel frames to climb into the heavily fortified Parliament complex as security forces use tear gas to disperse them [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

‘No to foreign interference’
Doumit Azzi, a 22-year-old university student from Jounieh, north of Beirut, said a principle reason behind his participation was “to show opposition to Macron’s involvement”.

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“All it [the visit] does is give international legitimacy to the current regime,” said Azzi, who is also a member of the grassroots Lahaki – For My Rights – movement.

“We are angry at this regime, which has done nothing after the blast. And before that, it did nothing to address the demands of the revolution or solve the economic crisis – now even worse,” he told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

Protesters march near Parliament to demonstrate against Lebanon’s ruling class [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

On Monday, the World Bank estimated the explosion caused at least $3.2bn in physical damage, mostly to the transport sector, housing, and cultural sites, in addition to at least $2.9bn in losses to the country’s economic output.

Even before the blast, Lebanon’s economy was in tatters because of the breakdown of the banking system, skyrocketing inflation, and the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the World Bank projecting that 45 percent of the population would be living under the poverty line this year.

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Neamat Baderaldeen, 39, from Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon, said she came to show her rejection for “foreign interference” in Lebanon’s affairs.

“I’m against Macron’s visit and any other foreign involvement in our country,” said Baderaldeen. “Whether its tasking Adib or Macron’s visit and his meeting with civil society groups and NGOs, the developments mean there’s been no change.

“We all know that Macron isn’t here to help us. He’s here for foreign interests.”

Protesters use rocks to try to break down steel walls surrounding the Parliament [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Continuing demonstrations
Tuesday’s protest was the first large demonstration since August 8, which left dozens of people injured after thousands of anti-government protesters were met with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and sporadic live ammunition fire from security forces, only four days after the blast.

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Clashes erupted between rioters and members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) as demonstrators tried to reach the country’s Parliament building, a site that has often been targeted since the launch of the protest movement in October last year.

Thousands of people have since taken to the streets in mass demonstrations to protest corruption, the lack of basic services, and government mismanagement.

The protest movement experienced a lull as coronavirus-related restrictions were imposed to curb its spread in February. But the centennial and recent developments pushed people back onto the streets.

“We’re here because today marks 100 years since Lebanon was established, but we still have no country,” said 30-year-old Mohamed Sarhan. “We’re here to demand a change.”

SOURCE: NOBLE REPORTERS MEDIA, NEWS AGENCIES


#Newsworthy…

Group chooses Mustapha Adib to run for Lebanon PM

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Ambassador to Germany set to be named crisis-hit Lebanon’s prime minister-designate at Monday’s nomination process.


An influential group of former Lebanese prime ministers has picked little-known diplomat Mustapha Adib to head the country’s next government, all but ensuring his appointment at a nomination process on Monday.

Fouad Siniora, speaking on behalf of the group which met on Sunday, said Adib should rapidly form a government capable of implementing long-overdue reforms and overseeing Beirut’s reconstruction following a massive explosion that killed at least 190 people and damaged large parts of the capital earlier this month.

The group of four former prime ministers represents the largest number of Sunni Muslim MPs in Lebanon’s parliament, including the Future Movement bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Their support is seen as essential for the success of the prime minister, who under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing pact must always be Sunni.

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab had the support of just a handful of parliament’s 27 Sunni MPs in addition to little popular support. His six-month government, which resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion, is widely seen as having failed to make headway on vital economic and political reforms demanded by massive protests that led to Hariri’s resignation last year as prime minister.

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On Monday morning, President Michel Aoun is due to hold binding consultations with MPs to go through the formal motions of picking the next prime minister, who must then form a government – a process which in the past has taken many months.

The consultations will begin with three of the four former prime ministers and Hariri’s Future Movement bloc, all of whom are set to nominate Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany. Most other major blocs, including Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, have indicated they will follow suit, easily giving Adib the largest share of votes.

Mustapha Adib, a little known academic and diplomat, is expected to become the troubled country’s next prime minister [File: Wolfgang Kumm/DPA via AFP]

A ‘gift’ for Macron
Adib’s designation will come on the eve of French President Emmanuel Macron’s second trip to Lebanon in under a month – a visit set to focus on the need for reform in order to unlock foreign support.

“A gift for Macron, got to love it,” Lebanon analyst Karim Makdisi said on Twitter.

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In Beirut just a few days after the devastating explosion, Macron had proposed Lebanese leaders come to a new political understanding and warned failure to change could lead to deep unrest.

Lebanon is drowning in the worst economic and financial crisis in decades, which has pushed more than half of the population under the poverty line and has left the currency worth only about 20 percent of what it was last summer.

The crisis is fuelled by decades of rampant corruption and mismanagement by the same political leaders who are due to nominate the next prime minister.

If picked, Adib’s government will have to resume stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a roughly $10bn programme – a key demand of international donors – and push through reforms to the electricity and the financial sectors that have previously been bogged down by disagreements between Lebanon’s sectarian leaders.

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Diab had failed to make headway on this process because of high-level disagreements. And although the next government will be under heavy international pressure to push through reforms, few in Lebanon are inclined to believe Adib’s government will be much different – and some were quick in making parallels between him and Diab.

“Mustapha Adib seems like another Hassan Diab,” Lebanon analyst Ramez Dagher wrote on Twitter.

Like Diab, Adib is an academic and is not well known among the public.

Adib has a PhD in law and political science and has taught at the state-funded Lebanese University since 2010.

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Both have ties to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, with Adib serving as an adviser to him since 2000, while Diab served as education minister in his cabinet.

Even Adib’s four-letter name is an acronym of Diab.

“This is another attempt to beautify the system with a new face that very few people know and project the image that something is going to change,” Sami Atallah, the director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera.

“I doubt anything will, because we’ll see how this government will be formed with representatives of different political parties, just like Diab,” he added, noting one marked difference was that Adib will be nominated by a large number of Sunni MPs, giving him a wider backing.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Canada FM wants to help in Lebanon blast probe.

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Canada’s foreign minister Thursday offered help in investigating the cause of the colossal port explosion that ravaged Beirut on August 4.

During a tour of the capital, Francois-Philippe Champagne stressed the need for a “credible investigation” into the blast that killed more than 180 people including two Canadians and wounded thousands.

“Canada would like, under the right circumstances, to contribute to the investigation,” he told Lebanese press.

The United States has already sent FBI investigators to assist at the request of Lebanese authorities, and France has opened its own probe.

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 27, 2020 shows Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne speaking to reporters after his meeting with the Lebanese president at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun accepted the Canadian offer.

“We welcome the help that Canada wants to provide in the ongoing investigations over the explosion at the Beirut port,” Aoun told Champagne, according to the presidency.

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The blast came after hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been left unsecured for several years at the port, despite repeated warnings of the dangers it posed.

Western powers, international bodies and Lebanese at home and abroad have called for an international probe into the blast, but Lebanese authorities have rejected this.

Champagne also called for “economic and political reforms” as he met Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Charbel Wehbe.

The Canadian minister toured Beirut neighbourhoods devastated by the blast, and met the families of the two Canadians who were killed in the disaster.

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He said Canada would contribute an additional 8 million Canadian dollars ($6 million) to aid efforts to match the contribution of Canadians via a fund launched earlier this month.

Canada, which is home to a large Lebanese community, previously pledged 30 million Canadians dollars (more than $22 million) to help after the blast.

In Lebanon’s ongoing probe, Judge Fadi Sawan has so far issued arrest warrants for 16 people.

He is next week due to start questioning six others, including the director-general of land and maritime transport and four senior security officers responsible for the port.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: UNESCO on massive fundraising drive.

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The UN’s culture and education organisation will organise two conferences to seek “considerable” funding for blast-hit Beirut, its director said Thursday in the Lebanese capital.

Audrey Azoulay told AFP during the visit of a school damaged by the colossal August 4 explosion at Beirut port that two events were in the works.

“The first one will be a meeting of the Global Education Coalition dedicated to Lebanon,” she said, referring to a body set up since the Covid-19 pandemic to support remote learning.

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“The country absolutely needs to be better prepared on this issue of remote learning,” she said.

According to UNESCO, around 160 schools were destroyed or damaged by the blast, which left more than 180 people dead and devastated entire neighbourhoods of Beirut.

Azoulay said at least 85,000 children were directly affected by the destruction the explosion wreaked in Beirut.

With the start of the new school year theoretically only days away, the explosion compounded a serious crisis the educational system already faced due to Covid-19 and an unprecedented economic crisis.

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Azoulay said a preliminary assessment showed $22 million would be needed just to rebuild damaged schools.

She said a second conference would be organised, probably in late September, to raise funds for Beirut’s heritage and the cultural sector.

Azoulay said the aim was to “secure international funding for culture, of the kind that usually comes after reconstruction efforts”.

“It needs to come now,” she said, adding that while estimates were underway, the funding needed would be “considerable”.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: UN experts demand probe.

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United Nations human rights experts on Thursday demanded a swift, independent investigation into the catastrophic Beirut explosion, citing deep concern about irresponsibility and impunity in Lebanon.

The group also called for a relatively-rare special debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council this September.

UN experts do not speak for the United Nations but report their findings to it.

Lebanon’s president has rejected any international probe into the Beirut port blast, as demanded by protesters.

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“We support calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and independent investigation based on human rights principles, to examine all claims, concerns and needs in relation to the explosion as well as the underlying human rights failures,” some 38 UN experts said in a joint statement.

The investigation should have a broad mandate to probe “any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect human rights”.

“We are deeply concerned about the level of irresponsibility and impunity surrounding human and environmental devastation on this scale,” they said.

The investigation should protect the confidentiality of victims and witnesses, and its findings should be made public, the experts said.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Political Game Changer?

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…hollow blow?


Last week’s cataclysmic explosion has ripped Beirut apart but was it strong enough to topple the entrenched ruling class whose greed and incompetence are blamed for it?

The masters of Lebanon’s political pie-sharing game have not changed in decades: warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war who traded their fatigues for suits.

Many Lebanese want their reviled leaders to bite the dust over the August 4 explosion, which killed at least 160 people and disfigured the capital.

Under pressure from all sides, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his government’s resignation on Monday but it remains to be seen whether new faces are brought in or the usual suspects brought back.

– New system? –

Authorities say the blast was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertiliser had been left unsecured for years.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion near the the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Whatever the cause of the fire is, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the officials in charge of the port.

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The disgust that had fuelled nationwide protests last year demanding a complete overhaul of the political system turned to fully-fledged rage and thirst for revenge.

Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s 85-year-old president and a symbol of the status quo, acknowledged the need to “reconsider” the country’s governance.

In his resignation speech, Diab said he wanted to join the people in holding decades-old rulers accountable, saying: “Their corruption created this tragedy.”

The two men’s attempts to distance themselves from the political elite failed to convince many ordinary Lebanese, who saw nothing more than an exercise in buck-passing and self-preservation.

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Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said the fallout from the blast was a potential “game-changer” because the street would accept nothing less than radical change.

He said the resentment towards established parties could finally create a space for the emergence of “new political formations”.

– Square Zero –

Jeffrey G. Karam assistant professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, was less hopeful.

“It is almost impossible to consider and even imagine that the blast will sweep away the ruling political class,” he told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

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“The ruling class will absorb the shock, anger, frustration and actually exploit the blood in the streets,” he said.

It will “promise short-term solutions to simply manufacture consent and some sense of normalcy,” he predicted.

Karam said one possible scenario moving forward is the formation of a so-called national unity government that includes representatives of all the country’s main political parties, some under the guise of technocratic nominees.

This would mean “we’re back to square zero.”

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Diad suggested early polls before resigning but a fresh vote would just return the same elite if the electoral law is not thoroughly reviewed.

“Our political class is immune to human tragedy, especially given that almost all of them are warlords,” Karam said.

“Unfortunately, a few hundred blast victims will not trigger a mass scale response from the political elite.”

– Outside rescue? –

Foreign sponsors were long the main lifeline for Lebanon’s economy and the financiers of the patronage networks of its rival political parties but the money flow has dried up in recent years.

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The blast rocked Lebanon at a time when it was already on its knees, having defaulted on its debt and seen poverty rise to near third world levels.

Despite the economic emergency, Lebanon’s barons were resisting the reforms demanded by Western donors but the extra burden and popular anger generated by the port blast will further reduce its room for manoeuvre.

On the first visit by a head of state to Lebanon since the explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron last week called for a “new political order”.

An emergency international conference he organised for blast victims on Sunday raised a quarter of a billion dollars he vowed would bypass the government.

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LAU political science professor Bassel Salloukh argued that this kind of outside pressure was a potent weapon to change what he described as a “zombie political system”.

“The August 4 explosion changes everything: the political elite have no more manoeuvering room,” he said.

“They will find it very difficult to avoid the kind of structural reforms that the international community has made a precondition for any aid,” he added.

“Will that uproot the political system? No, but it forces them to make the kind of concessions they have long resisted.”


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Lebanon children roams in trauma.

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“I don’t want to die.” Those were the first words Hiba’s six-year-old son screamed after the massive explosion at Beirut port sent shards of glass flying around their house.

The blast a week ago that temporarily displaced 100,000 children, according to a UN estimate, was so mighty it had the magnitude of an earthquake.

The mental shock it caused among Beirut’s youngest was just as powerful.

When the boy saw blood on his feet, “he started screaming: ‘Mom, I don’t want to die’,” Hiba recalled.

“What is this life? Coronavirus and an explosion!,” her son told her after the blast.

“Imagine that!” said the mother. “A child only six years old asking this question.”

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The 35-year-old mother of two, who asked to withhold the names of her children and their family name, said her entire building shook when the catastrophe struck on August 4.

Her son, who was sitting on a living room couch just across from her, was speckled with shards of glass from a blown-out window.

“The shattered glass whirled around us,” Hiba said, a scene described by countless survivors.

For a few seconds her son sat motionless and unscathed on the couch.

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She then dragged him out of the room, they boy barefoot on a carpet of splintered glass that cut bloody gashes into his feet.

“My son now twitches in panic every time he hears a loud sound,” she said.

Graphic content / Wounded people wait to received help outside a hospital following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

– ‘Bottling up emotions’ –
Hiba’s son was not the only one left traumatised. His infant sister, born just 16 days before the explosion, lost conciousness for 20 minutes.

“It took a lot of time before she began to wake up and start crying,” said Hiba, so shocked herself that she has struggled to breastfeed her since.

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She said she now keeps her son in his room, surrounded by his toys, instead of in the living room where the television broadcasts scenes of grief and devastation all day long.

“I don’t know if he is bottling up his emotions,” Hiba said. “But I’m trying to spend a lot of time with him in case he needs to talk.”

The explosion that gutted swathes of the city killed at least 160 people and left 6,000 people physically wounded.

Children are among the casualties and the UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that “those who survived are traumatised and in shock”.

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In a video widely shared on social media showing plumes of smoke rising from the harbourside, the almost playful voice of a child can initially be heard in the background, saying “explosion, explosion”.

When the impact from the massive blast hits him, the same child also screams, in English: “Mom, I don’t want to die.”

On Lebanese TV, the mother of a three-year-old girl killed in the blast gave an emotional testimony in which she shared her feeling of guilt about having tried to raise a child in a dysfunctional country.

“I want to apologise to Alexandra,” she said, “because I did not take her out of Lebanon.”

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– ‘Anxiety, night terrors’ –
The Save the Children charity has warned of a severe strain on children’s mental health as a result of the blast.

“Without proper support, children might face long-term consequences,” it said in a statement.

Anne-Sophie Dybdal, the charity’s senior child protection advisor, warned of “anxiety, trouble sleeping, attacks of night terror”.

“The impact on children can be very deep,” she said.

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Child psychologist Sophia Maamari said traumatised children may also develop separation anxiety that could make them fear even going to the bathroom without one of their parents.

Loud bangs may trigger fears of another blast and some children could go temporarily mute or tend toward self-isolation, the psychologist explained.

Maamari advised that parents should make their children feel like they are allowed to be scared by telling them that they too were frightened by the explosion.

This is one tip Noura picked up online when she was looking for information on how to handle her two traumatised children, aged three and four.

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The 34-year-old mother said she had described to her kids in detail how she was gripped by fear and panic.

Her older son immediately responded to her admission by saying: “It was a big bam.”

Her youngest did not respond until the next day.

“I was very scared too,” she said the little boy whispered into her ear as soon as he woke up.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Lebanon PM passes letter of resignation.

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Lebanon’s premier Hassan Diab stepped down Monday amid fury within and outside his government over the deadly Beirut port blast he blamed on the incompetence and corruption of a decades-old ruling class.

“Today we are heeding the people and their demands to hold accountable those responsible for a disaster,” he said in a televised address, blaming a “corrupt” political class that has ruled Lebanon for more than 30 years for the August 4 explosion.

“This is why today I announce the resignation of the government.”

…more to come


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: World must react – Macron insists

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday called for speedy international backing for disaster-struck Lebanon and urged its leaders to prevent “chaos” as he opened an emergency aid conference following Beirut’s deadly port blast.

Macron hosted US President Donald Trump and other world leaders for the virtual conference to drum up aid for Lebanon, as the UN said some $117 million will be needed over the next three months for the emergency response.

“The objective today is to act quickly and effectively to coordinate our aid on the ground so that it goes as efficiently as possible to the Lebanese people,” Macron told the conference also attended by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, UN aid coordinator Mark Lowcock, representatives of the World Bank, the Red Cross, the IMF, the EU, the Arab League and several Middle Eastern leaders.

Macron was the first world leader to visit Beirut after Tuesday’s devastating explosion which killed at least 158 people, wounded some 6,000 and left an estimated 300,000 homeless.

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Lebanese people enraged by the official negligence blamed for the explosion have taken to the streets in anti-government protests that saw clashes with the army.

Macron said it was “up to the authorities of the country to act so that the country does not sink, and to respond to the aspirations that the Lebanese people are expressing right now, legitimately, in the streets of Beirut.

“We must all work together to ensure that neither violence nor chaos prevails,” he added. “It is the future of Lebanon that is at stake.”

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP

Macron also warned that “those who have an interest in this division and chaos, it is the powers that would somehow want to put the Lebanese people at risk”. He did not name names.

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– Millions of dollars needed –

The French president repeated his call for political and economic reforms, which he said “would allow the international community to act effectively side by side with Lebanon for the reconstruction.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Saturday that he would call for early elections.

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on May 21, 2020 shows Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaking during a press conference at the governmental palace in the capital Beirut. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

An “emergency response framework” drafted by the United Nations said $66.3 million was needed for immediate humanitarian aid, including health services for the injured, emergency shelter for those whose homes were destroyed, food distribution and programmes to “prevent further spread of COVID-19”.

Phase II of the plan will require $50.6 million to rebuild public infrastructure, rehabilitate private homes and prevent disease outbreaks.

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It said at least 15 medical facilities, including three major hospitals, sustained structural damage in the blast, and extensive damage to more than 120 schools may interrupt learning for some 55,000 children.

Thousands of people are in need of food and the blast interrupted basic water and sanitation to many neighbourhoods.

Speaking in Beirut after his visit on Thursday, Macron said clear and transparent governance will be put in place to ensure all international aid “is directly chanelled to the people, to NGOs, to the teams in the field who need it, without any possible opacity or diversion.”

File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

– ‘Everyone wants to help’-

Trump, confirming his attendance at the conference, tweeted Saturday that “everyone wants to help!”.

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Israel, with whom Lebanon has no diplomatic relations, was not on the list of participants, nor Iran which wields huge influence in Lebanon through the Shiite group Hezbollah.

Key Arab states in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and the UAE were represented, as were Britain, China, Jordan and Egypt.

Macron, who hosted the conference from his summer residence on the Mediterranean, has said he would return to Lebanon on September 1 to check progress.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Lebanon info minister pens resignation letter.

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Lebanon information minister Manale Abdel Samad announced her resignation, saying Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government failed to live up to the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

“I want to apologise to the lebanese people, whose aspirations we were unable to fulfil due to the difficulty of the challenges facing us,” she said in a short statement from the ministry.

Abdel Samad said she had tried in Diab’s government to address the demands of an unprecedented uprising that rocked the country last October, “but change remained far.”

Abdel Samad added the government did not live up to her aspirations and she was resigning out of respect for those killed, injured and missing after the massive Beirut explosion earlier this week, “and in response to the people’s demand for change.”

Abdel Samad is the second minister to resign from Diab’s government in one week, after Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned on Monday.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Protest full Lebanon foreign ministry. [Photos]

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Lebanese protesters stormed the foreign ministry in Beirut on Saturday as anger exploded over a deadly blast that made hundreds of thousands homeless and shocked the world.

Thousands of demonstrators, some of them brandishing nooses, had descended on the city centre to vent their fury at politicians they blame for Tuesday’s explosion, which levelled Beirut port and killed 158 people.

As security forces fired tear gas to disperse strone-throwing demonstrators, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would seek early elections, saying it was the only way to “exit the country’s structural crisis”.

Demonstrators marched through streets ravaged by the blast, gathering in the central Martyrs’ Square, where a truck was on fire.

The police said an officer had fallen to his death after an “assault” by “a number of murderous rioters” during the protests.

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“A member of the Internal Security Forces died while…. helping people trapped inside the Le Gray hotel” in downtown Beirut, the police force said on Twitter, without providing additional details.

That came after a group led by retired Lebanese army officers stormed the foreign ministry and declared it the “headquarters of the revolution”.

“We are taking over the foreign ministry as a seat of the revolution,” Sami Rammah, a retired officer, announced by loudspeaker from the ministry’s front steps.

A Lebanese protester waves the national flag during clashes with security forces in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. JOSEPH EID / AFP

“We call on all the anguished Lebanese people to take to the streets to demand the prosecution of all the corrupt,” he said, appealing to the international community to boycott the government.

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In an apparently coordinated strategy, others stormed the headquarters of the country’s banking association, a focal point of anger during recent mass protests over corruption and Lebanon’s collapsing economy.

They were later chased out by security forces who entered via a back door and doused the fire.

A group also briefly entered the economy ministry, scattering piles of documents in the street.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it had taken 63 people from the protest to nearby hospitals and treated another 175 at the scene, without specifying who they were.

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As rescuers made last-ditch attempts to find survivors amid the rubble, efforts were afoot to drum up international support for the disaster-hit country ahead of a virtual aid conference on Sunday.

Lebanese protesters destroy the interior of the headquarters of the Lebanese association of banks in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

A fire at the port on Tuesday ignited a stock of ammonium nitrate, triggering an explosion that was felt as far away as Cyprus, and destroyed entire neighbourhoods and wounded at least 6,000.

It was widely perceived as a direct consequence of corruption and incompetence, perhaps the most egregious case of callousness on the part of Lebanon’s long-reviled elite.

‘Criminals’
“You were corrupt, now you are criminals,” read one banner at the demonstration, while protesters chanted: “Revenge, until this regime reaches an end.”

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Rita, whose home was gutted by the blast, said: “They have robbed us of everything. We have nothing left: no dreams, no future… no dignity, no money, and now, no houses.”

“We should not be forced to live this way,” added the 33-year-old protester.

The health ministry said 158 people were confirmed to have died in the disaster, while 21 were still missing.

The Netherlands announced that its ambassador’s wife was among the dead.

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The blast has prompted an impressive aid response from both inside and outside Lebanon, but demonstrators’ chants and the mock gallows they set up in the street made it clear that people want heads to roll.

But some of Lebanon’s leaders seemed to consider the outpouring of international solidarity as an opportunity to break the government’s diplomatic isolation.

A Palestinian girls carries the national flag and the Lebanese flag during a candle light vigil in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 5, 2020, in support of Lebanon a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Foreign support
Lebanon defaulted on its debt for the first time ever this year and the current leadership has so far failed to address the economic emergency and agree on the reforms needed to negotiate an international rescue package, despite intense Western pressure.

Speaking on Friday evening, Aoun said “the explosion has led to the lifting of the isolation”.

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Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, said the disaster had created “an opportunity” to get the world to work with Lebanon again.

Three senior diplomats were in Beirut Saturday in a show of solidarity with the disaster-hit city, where 300,000 people were made temporarily homeless by the port explosion.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit met top officials ahead of expected visits by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.

High-stakes probe
So far 21 people have been detained over the blast, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon’s customs authority.

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But Aoun has rejected calls backed by Macron for an international, independent investigation into the blast.

Five lawmakers have quit since the blast.

Few Lebanese seemed to have any trust that the leadership would incriminate its own in an investigation chaired by senior officials.

A man holds a sign reading “Solidarity with Beyrouth” and a candle on August 5, 2020, in Toulouse, during a gathering to pay tribute to the Lebanese people a day after a powerful explosion tore through Lebanon’s capital, resulting from the ignition of a huge depot of ammonium nitrate at the city’s main port. (Photo by REMY GABALDA / AFP)

Analyst Nasser Yassin of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said Lebanon’s reviled leaders were clearly seeking to take advantage of the situation.

“The fear is that the authorities will benefit from this great disaster and from the international and Arab attention they are getting,” he said.


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Beirut explosions: Dutch ambassador’s wife loses to death

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The wife of Dutch ambassador to Lebanon Jan Waltmans has died of wounds sustained in the Beirut bomb explosion, the Netherlands’ foreign ministry said Saturday.

“It is with dismay and great sadness that we report the death of our colleague Hedwig Waltmans-Molier. She succumbed to injuries sustained in the massive explosion in Beirut,” a ministry statement said.

Waltmans-Molier was hit by debris from the explosion shortly after returning back to Lebanon from holiday with her husband of 38 years.

“Hedwig was standing in her living room next to her husband when she was hit, sheerly by bad lack, by the explosion,” the ministry said.

The 55-year-old was the only Dutch citizen reported to have died from the explosion that rocket Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least 154 and devastating swathes of the capital.

Five other Dutch citizens were slightly injured, the ministry said.


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Beirut explosions: Lebanon leader reject Macron’s call for global probe

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Lebanon’s president has rejected any international probe into the catastrophic Beirut port blast, saying a missile or negligence could have been responsible as rescuers desperately combed the rubble for survivors.

The entrenched ruling class has come under fire once again since Tuesday’s explosion, which killed at least 154 people and devastated swathes of the capital.

The revelation that a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years in a warehouse in the heart of the capital served as shocking proof to many Lebanese of the rot at the core of their political system.

Even Lebanese President Michel Aoun admitted Friday that the “paralysed” system needed to be “reconsidered”.

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He pledged “swift justice”, but rejected widespread calls for an international probe, telling a reporter he saw it as an attempt to “dilute the truth”.

“There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb,” he said, the first time a top Lebanese official raised the possibility that the port had been attacked.

What ignited the massive shipment of the chemical remains unclear — officials have said work had recently begun on repairs to the warehouse, while others suspected fireworks stored either in the same place or nearby.

Near the site of the explosion, by the carcass of the port’s giant grain silos, rescue teams from France, Russia, Germany, Italy and other countries coordinated their search efforts.

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The World Food Programme has promised food for affected families and wheat imports to replace lost stocks from the silos, and US President Donald Trump said he would join other leaders in a conference call Sunday to discuss coordinating international aid.

Four bodies were uncovered near the port’s control room Friday, where a significant number of people were expected to have been working at the time of the blast.

No one has been found alive.

“I am waiting to hear that you have been rescued alive, my dear,” tweeted Emilie Hasrouty, whose brother is among the missing.

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“I am paralysed with fear.”

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (C) wears a protective face mask as he visits the site of a massive explosion the previous day in the heart of the Lebanese Beirut on August 5, 2020. (Photo by – / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP)

100,000 children homeless
At the port, reduced to an enormous scrapyard, excavators removed mangled shipping containers to clear a path for rescuers.

Civil defence teams anxiously watched a sniffer dog pace around a gap under a fallen crane.

Beirut has received a stream of international assistance since the blast.

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On Friday, relief flights from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates landed in Lebanon, following others from France, Kuwait, Qatar and Russia.

International police agency Interpol has said it will send a team of experts who are specialised in identifying victims.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, called for $15 million to cover immediate health needs.

Lebanon’s hospitals, already strained by rising coronavirus cases and a severe economic crisis, were heavily damaged by the blast and overwhelmed by casualties.

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Two days after the explosion, Lebanese were flocking to a 20-tent Russian field hospital newly established in the capital’s largest sports stadium.

The United Nations said up to 100,000 children are among the 300,000 people made homeless, including many who have been separated from their families.

‘We have nothing’
With destruction from the blast engulfing half of the capital and estimated to cost more than $3 billion, world leaders, advocacy groups and Lebanese have demanded an international probe to ensure impartiality.

But Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement said Friday the army should lead such a probe because it was “trusted” by all.

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Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah denied accusations the Shiite party had been storing arms at the port, saying: “We have nothing in the port.”

Lebanon’s probe has so far led to 21 arrests, including the port’s general manager Hassan Koraytem, other customs officials and port engineers, a judicial source told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

Dozens more were being interrogated by Lebanon’s military court, which is focusing on administrative and security officials at the port as well as government authorities who may have ignored warnings about explosive materials.

“The list of arrests will reach the top guys, who are now among the suspects,” the source said.

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Lebanon’s central bank also ordered asset freezes for seven port and customs officials, an official and a banking source told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).

The measures did not dampen the anger in Beirut’s streets, where dozens of demonstrators scuffled with security forces firing tear gas late Thursday.

And volunteers clearing debris have chased out two government ministers who tried to visit devastated neighbourhoods with furious chants of “resign”.

An anti-government protest is planned for Saturday afternoon under the slogan, “Hang them by the gallows”.


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Thousands of protesters hit Lebanon streets. [Photos]

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The estimated number of people wounded in the monster explosion at Beirut’s port has shot up to 6,000, the health ministry said Saturday in a statement.

The death toll rose to 158 and the number of missing dropped to 21 from 60 in the latest ministry figures.

The authorities had previously put the number of people wounded in Tuesday’s blast at 5,000, stressing that at least 120 of them were considered to be in critical condition.

Thousands protest

Several thousand protesters gathered in central Beirut on Saturday to vent their anger at a political elite they blame for a deadly explosion that turned the city into a disaster zone.

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The large crowd of demonstrators, some of them brandishing nooses, called for revenge as a large deployment of security forces tried to contain some groups seeking to advance towards parliament.


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