Condolences poured in from across the world for Lebanon, after its capital, Beirut, was rocked by a massive explosion that killed at least 73 people and injured around 2,750 others on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on “friendly countries” to support a country already facing its worst economic turmoil in years amid the coronavirus pandemic.
UN Secretary-General Anotonio Guterres expressed his “deepest condolences … following the horrific explosions in Beirut,” adding that United Nations staff were among the injured.
Read more: Powerful explosion rocks Lebanon’s capital Beirut, dozens killed, thousands injured
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that he had instructed the NSC head, Ben-Shabbat, to speak to the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process to clarify how Israel can further assist Lebanon.
Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah said it did not believe Israeli rocket attacks were behind the blast, while the Israeli military also denied involvement in the explosion. Lebanese Prime Minister Diab later said that the second, larger explosion had been caused by a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate — a volatile chemical with many uses ranging from agricultural fertilizer to bomb-making.
Two immense blasts shook Beirut and the surrounding areas of the Lebanese capital, prompting panic as residents rushed to safety. “I have never in my life seen a disaster this big,” Beirut’s governor told local TV.
The explosions, centered in Beirut’s port region, were felt throughout the capital. Even residents in the city’s outskirts reported hearing the blast, with some saying their windows were shattered.
Lebanon’s Health Ministry said at least 70 people were killed and over 3,000 others were injured.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that a large stockpile of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at the port had caused the second, larger explosion. “It is unacceptable that a shipment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate has been present for six years in a warehouse, without taking preventive measures,” Diab said.
More than 30 Red Cross teams raced to the scene, with many locals lending a hand to aid rescue efforts. Hospitals warned that they were quickly filled beyond capacity — and called for blood donations as well as generators to help keep the electricity on.
The blasts struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences center GFZ. Residents in Cyprus, some 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, reported hearing and feeling the blast.
DW’s Bassel Aridi said people were using social media to try to track down their loved ones after the explosions. Aridi also visited a hospital in Beirut after the blasts. “What I saw in the hospital was so dramatic. All the hospitals have announced that they are totally overloaded.”
Lebanese authorities fear many more people are buried beneath rubble. President Michel Aoun scheduled an emergency Cabinet meeting for Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared.
The devastating blasts come as Lebanon experiences severe economic turbulence, with many people taking to the streets in recent months to protest the financial situation. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared that Wednesday would be a national day of mourning for the victims of the explosion.
US President Donald Trump offered his condolences and said the US stood ready to assist Lebanon, but he also indicated that his generals “seem to feel” the massive explosion was a “terrible attack” of some kind.
“It would seem like it based on the explosion. I met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel it was,” Trump claimed. “This was not a … some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of a event. … They seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind, yes.”
Trump’s comments were issued at a similar time to Lebanese updates on the large stockpile of ammonium nitrate, potentially explaining the apparent contradiction.
France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, issued tweets in French and then in Arabic. “I express my brotherly solidarity with the Lebanese people after the explosion,” Macron said, adding that French aid and resources had already been dispatched towards Beirut.
European Council President Charles Michel said the EU “stands ready to provide assistance and support.”
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, sent a telegram to his Lebanese counterpart offering his condolences for the loss of life from the blast.
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign office said that employees of the German embassy in Lebanon were among those injured by the blast. Germany said that it was checking what help it could offer immediately.
Mike Pompeo, US’s Secretary of State, said that the US was monitoring the situation.
Boris Johnson, the PM of UK, said that the pictures from Beirut were “shocking” and that the UK would offer help, including to British nationals affected by the blast.
am/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)