Beirut customs chief, port manager arrested in blast probe: Live

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says Beirut port explosion ‘has nothing to do’ with group, calls for accountability.

Public Anger Grows Over Cause Of Beirut Explosion
  • Lebanese president says blast probe looking into external interference among possible causes, in addition to simple negligence or an accident.

  • Lebanese authorities have taken into custody 16 people as part of an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion that shook the capital, state news agency NNA reported.

  • The Lebanese government has given an investigative committee four days to determine responsibility for the blast, Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe told French radio.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron offered France’s support for the Lebanese people on a visit to Beirut, but said crisis-hit Lebanon would “continue to sink” unless its leaders carry out reforms.

  • Health Minister Hamad Hassan said at least 154 people have been killed in the explosion and 5,000 others injured, but the number is expected to rise as search-and-rescue operations continued for missing people.

INTERACTIVE: Beirut explosion map

Here are the latest updates:

Friday, August 7

23:28 GMT – Customs chief, port manager arrested

A judge in Beirut ordered the arrest of the director of Lebanese customs and the general manager of the city’s port as part of the investigations into Tuesday’s explosion

Badri Daher, the chief of the customs department, and Hassan Koraytem, the general manager of Beirut’s port, will be detained for as long as investigations continue, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Daher’s predecessor Shafik Merhi was also detained.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the deadly explosion at the Beirut port. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.

19:06 GMT – Dozens of fireworks were stored in port hangar, former port worker says

A former port worker told the Guardian that dozens of bags of fireworks were stored in the same hangar as the “thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate” at Beirut’s port and may have been a decisive factor in igniting the chemical which fuelled the explosion.

“There were 30 to 40 nylon bags of fireworks inside warehouse 12,” Yusuf Shehadi said, adding that he personally saw the delivery of the fireworks which had been confiscated by customs about a decade ago.

“They were on the left-hand side when you entered the door. I used to complain about this. It wasn’t safe. There was also humidity there. This was a disaster waiting to happen,” Shehadi was quoted as saying.

He also said that had been instructed by the Lebanese army to house the ammonium nitrate chemical in warehouse 12 at the port, the Guardian reported, despite calls by state security officials and customs personnel urging the removal of the substance.   

Damages due to explosion in Port of Beirut
General view of damaged site is seen as search and rescue operations continue after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts [Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu]

19:03 GMT – No Beirut blast inquiry request, says UN after Macron call for probe

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

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

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

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

16:20 GMT – Trump, Macron, discussed sending Lebanon immediate aid 

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed working together with other countries to send immediate aid to Lebanon during a phone call, White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

Deere said the two leaders “expressed their deep sadness over the loss of life and devastation in Beirut”.

14:48 GMT – How Beirut’s firefighters were sent to the site of the explosion

About five minutes before 6pm (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday, Beirut’s fire brigade received a call from the police, who told them that witnesses had spotted smoke billowing out of the city’s port.

A team of 10 was ordered to respond to a fire at the Beirut port. They did not know what they were heading for.

Read more about the fate of the firefighters and the paramedic who accompanied them here.

14:44 GMT – Hezbollah leader denies claims that warehouse had group’s weapons 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah strongly denied claims that the armed group had any weapons stored at the warehouse prior to the explosion, adding that that the investigation will soon “reveal the truth” behind the deadly blast.  

“We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate,” Nasrallah said in televised speech. “Our people are among those injured and killed in the blast.”

Nasrallah called for accountability and noted that there is a “consensus” for a just and transparent investigation.

“Anyone responsible should be held to account … Nobody should be protected,” he said.

The armed group’s secretary-general said that the Beirut blast was an exceptional event in Lebanon’s modern history and that should be dealt with as such. 

“All of Hezbollah’s personnel and institutions … are under the state and the municipality’s disposal,” Nasrallah said.

14:22 GMT – Lebanon president rejects calls for international probe

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun rejected calls for an international probe into the massive port blast, after world leaders and Lebanese nationals abroad and at home pressed for an impartial investigation.     

When asked by a journalist during a televised interview if he thought an international probe would dilute the “truth”, the president answered, “of course”.     

Moments later on his Facebook page, the president spelled out his position further, saying, “the goal behind calls for an international investigation into the port issue is to dilute the truth.”

14:16 GMT – Calls for mass protests amid relief efforts 

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said people have little faith in the state’s investigation so far.

“The priority now is to provide aid to those in need. It is the people, the people are in the streets, they’re providing aid, they’re clearing the debris, they’re giving people food,” Khodr said.

“The government is absent, the state is absent … So people are becoming really angry and they’re already starting to mobilise. In fact there are calls for a mass protest tomorrow afternoon.”

Aftermath of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area
People sit in a car driving near the site of Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

13:48 GMT – ‘We need early elections’: Lebanese MP

Paula Yacoubian, a Lebanese member of parliament, dismissed the President Michel Aoun’s remarks as “lip service”.

“They [president, aides] lost any legitimacy they used to have … Beirut needs from this government to go away and to leave this country,” Yacoubian told Al Jazeera.

“It’s the political parties who need to step down and say ‘we have failed you’ … We need early elections as soon as possible.”

13:24 GMT – US says sending immediate $15m in food, medicine to Lebanon 

The United States said it would would send an immediate $15m worth of food and medicine to help Lebanon after Beirut’s massive port blast.

The aid, to be transported through the US military, amounts to three months’ worth of food for 50,000 people and three months’ worth of medicine for 60,000 people, the US Agency for International Development said.

Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Linah Alsaafin.

12:15 GMT – UN wants independent probe into Beirut blast

The UN human rights office is calling for an independent investigation into the Beirut explosion, insisting “victims’ calls for accountability must be heard”.

Spokesman Rupert Colville of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cited the need for the international community to “step up” to help Lebanon with both a quick response and sustained engagement.

He said Lebanon is facing the “triple tragedy of a socio-economic crisis, COVID-19 and the ammonium nitrate explosion” that devastated the capital on Tuesday.

11:45 GMT – EU chief Michel heading to Beirut on Saturday

The president of the European Council, which represents EU leaders, Charles Michel, will head to Beirut on Saturday as Brussels readies to support the Lebanese capital after a devastating explosion.

“Shocked and saddened, we stand with all those affected and will provide help,” Michel tweeted, announcing meetings with President Michel Aoun, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

11:20 GMT – Lebanese president says blast probe looking into external interference among possible causes

Lebanon’s president said an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion was looking at whether it was caused by negligence, an accident or possible external interference, his office cited him as telling local media.

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

He said the probe into Tuesday’s blast at a warehouse housing highly-explosive material was being conducted on three levels.

“First, how the explosive material entered and was stored … second whether the explosion was a result of negligence or an accident … and third the possibility that there was external interference.”

11:00 GMT – WHO appeals for $15mn aid for Lebanon

The World Health Organization (WHO) is appealing for $15mn to cover emergency health needs in Lebanon following the Beirut port explosion .

The blast destroyed 17 containers holding WHO medical supplies including personal protective equipment, the agency’s regional office for the Middle East said in a statement .

Five hospitals in the area affected by Tuesday’s blast are either not functioning or partially functioning, and early reports indicate that many health centres and primary care facilities are also damaged or out of action, it said.

The WHO, together with the American University of Beirut, is planning an environmental assessment on the impact of the fumes caused by the explosion of ammonium nitrate.

10:45 GMT – US pledges over $17mn in initial disaster aid for Lebanon

The United States has pledged over $17mn in initial disaster aid for Lebanon, following Tuesday’s Beirut port explosion, the US embassy said.

It said in a statement that the aid included food assistance, medical supplies and financial assistance for the Lebanese Red Cross. “Announcements of additional aid and assistance are forthcoming,” it added.

10:15 GMT – Lebanon navigates food challenge with no grain silo and few stocks

Beirut’s blast destroyed Lebanon’s only port-based grains silo, with plans for another in the country’s second largest port Tripoli shelved years ago due to a lack of funding, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Lebanon said.

“There are smaller storage sites within the private sector millers because they have to store wheat before it is milled into flour,” Maurice Saade told Reuters.

“In terms of grain silos, that was the only major one.”

The destruction of the 120,000-tonne capacity structure and disabling of the port, the main entry point for food imports, means buyers will have to rely on smaller privately-owned storage facilities for their wheat purchases, exacerbating concerns about food supplies. Lebanon, a nation of more than six million people, imports almost all of its wheat.

09:50 GMT – UN agencies scramble to support Beirut blast victims

UN agencies are scrambling to support victims of the devastating warehouse blast in Beirut, which has undermined an already weak healthcare system in Lebanon, officials said.

Damage to hospitals has removed 500 beds of capacity, a World Health Organization spokesman told a virtual United Nations briefing. Containers with thousands of personal protection equipment (PPE) items – used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – have also been destroyed.

Meanwhile UNICEF said 100,000 children have had their homes damaged and are displaced in Beirut., while 120 schools serving 55,000 children are in various states of damage.

Beirut blast: Families desperate for news on missing relatives

08:50 GMT – World Food Programme plans wheat imports for Beirut

The World Food Programme (WFP) plans to import wheat flour and grains for bakeries and mills to help protect against food shortages across Lebanon after a blast wrecked its main port in Beirut, the United Nations agency said.

“WFP is concerned that the explosion and the damage to the port will exacerbate an already grim food security situation – that has worsened because of the country’s profound financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic,” a spokeswoman said in notes prepared for a UN briefing in Geneva, adding it would be providing food parcels to thousands of families.

“WFP also stands ready to offer supply chain management and logistical support and expertise to Lebanon,” it said.

08:15 GMT – Tens of thousands sign petition calling for Lebanon to be placed under French mandate

As of Friday 08:15 GMT, at least 58,000 people have signed an online petition set up by Lebanese citizens on Wednesday to “place Lebanon under a French mandate for the next 10 years” 

“Lebanon’s officials have clearly shown a total inability to secure and manage the country,” the petition reads. “With a failing system, corruption, terrorism and militia the country has just reached its last breath.”

“We believe Lebanon should go back under the French mandate in order to establish a clean and durable governance.”

However, other citizens denounced the petition as a means to continue French colonialism.

Translation: [Emmanuel] Macron’s visit is very painful, especially as the first head of state to visit Lebanon after the explosion. His visit confirms the colonial link between the two countries, and it is humiliating to our history and our present. We forget that what Lebanon is going through is rooted in the remnants of French colonialism, and what that colonialism has planted in ourselves, our conscience, our culture and our vision.

07:30 GMT – Rescuers plough on through Beirut debris as hope fades for survivors

AFAD starts to search and rescue works at the Port of Beirut
Members of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) start to search and rescue works at the port of Beirut [Anadolu Agency]

Lebanese rescue workers and army soldiers are struggling to remove huge items of debris in search for possible survivors at Beirut’s port.

The Lebanese Red Cross believes there are still 100 people missing, most of who were working at Beirut’s port.

“We are doing our best as we are hoping to find people alive and trapped, but all we have found so far are the remains of people beyond recognition,” said a rescue worker, who said he has been working non-stop for the past 48 hours.

“Some foreign countries are sending help, but it might be too late for the people who may still be trapped under the debris,” he said.

06:48 GMT – Lebanese bride happy to be alive after blast cuts short wedding video

Israa Seblani, a 29-year-old doctor working in the United States, arrived in Lebanon three weeks ago to prepare for her wedding.

Her bridal photo shoot was cut short and captured the Beirut explosion that took place on Tuesday. Seblani, in her long veil and white wedding dress, helped to check on the injured nearby, before fleeing central Beirut’s Saifi square to safety.

“There is a lot of damage, many people were killed and wounded. But also if I want to look at us, myself, my husband, the photographer – how we escaped unharmed, I thank God for protecting us.”

“This alone makes me feel optimistic and to keep the joy of the occasion that I came here to celebrate.”

Hello, this is Linah Alsaafin in Doha taking over from my colleague Zaheena Rasheed.

04:19 GMT – Four Filipinos killed, 31 injured

At least four Filipinos were killed in the Beirut explosion and two others were in critical condition, according to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

A total of 31 Filipinos were injured in the blast, the office said.

02:10 GMT – Beirut resident vents fury at Lebanese leaders

A Beirut resident has told Al Jazeera live on air why so many are furious with Lebanon’s authorities after she lost four neighbours in Tuesday’s explosion.

“Our anger will only stop…if we see those b******* in prison,” she said.

Beirut resident’s fury at Lebanese authorities (2:25)

01:47 GMT – Ex-captain of cargo ship blames Lebanese authorities for blast

Boris Prokoshev, the former captain of the ship that brought almost 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to Beirut, said Lebanese authorities were “very well” aware of the dangers posed by the vessel’s cargo.

“It’s the government of Lebanon that brought about this situation,” Prokoshev told The Associated Press news agency from his home in the Krasnodar region of Russia.

His ship, the MV Rhosus, was not supposed to be in Lebanon at all, he said.

Boris Prokoshev, a sea captain, poses for a photo after his interview with The Associated Press outside Sochi, Russia [Kirill Lemekh/ AP]

When it set sail from the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi, the ship was bound for the Mozambiquan port of Beira. But the Rhosus made a stop in Beirut to try to earn extra money by taking on several pieces of heavy machinery.

The machinery proved too heavy for the Rhosus, however, and the crew refused to take it on. The ship was soon impounded by the Lebanese authorities for failing to pay port fees, and never left the port again. 

“They knew very well that there was dangerous cargo there,” Prokoshev said. “In my opinion, they should have even paid him [the owner of the boat] to take the dangerous cargo, a real headache, out of the port. But they just arrested the ship instead.”

00:54 GMT – EU releases $39m in emergency aid

The European Union announced the release of 33 million euros ($39m) in emergency aid to Lebanon to help cover the immediate needs of emergency services and hospitals in Beirut.

A donor conference is also planned to mobilise additional funding for reconstruction after an assessment of what is required, an EU source told the AFP news agency.

Thursday, August 6

23:38 GMT – Tear gas as protesters gather in downtown Beirut

Security forces have fired tear gas to disperse dozens of anti-government protesters calling for the Lebanese government’s resignation near the parliament building in Beirut. 

The state-run National News Agency (NNA) said protesters set fires, vandalised stores and threw stones at security forces, prompting the officers to use tear gas.

Several people were wounded in the clashes, the agency said.

Protest Lebanon
Riot police advance to push back anti-government protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 7, 2020 [Hassan Ammar/ AP]
Anti-government protesters throw stones and clash with riot police in downtown Beirut [Hassan Ammar/ AP]
LEBANON protest
Anti-government protesters call for the resignation of Lebanon’s government [Hassan Ammar/ AP]

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the deadly explosion at Beirut port. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies