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BEIRUT RESCUE

French lead rescue operations in Beirut following port explosion

A Lebanese civil defence rescuer offers food to a member of the French rescue contingent.(Beirut, 7 August 2020)
A Lebanese civil defence rescuer offers food to a member of the French rescue contingent.(Beirut, 7 August 2020) AFP - JOSEPH EID
Text by: Arnab Béranger with RFI
4 min

Four days after the giant explosion at Beirut’s port, a 55-strong French contingent was at the forefront of international rescue operations. Speculation is rife as to the cause of the deadly blast, and Lebanese authorities have detained 21 people.

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Speculation continues over what caused the fire that sparked the giant explosion of over 2700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stockpiled for years at Beirut’s port.

Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged ship, was supposed to have transported this extremely dangerous cargo from Georgia to Mozambique six years ago.

But the cargo never reached its destination.

On Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun suggested that either ‘negligence’ or ‘foreign interference through a missile or a bomb’ were responsible for the incident that killed over 150 people and injured thousands more.

He has, however, refused an international inquiry into the blast.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun suggested that the explosion may have been caused by "negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb,"
Lebanese President Michel Aoun suggested that the explosion may have been caused by "negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb," Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

Rescue work centred around port’s control room

On Friday, efforts to find survivors were focused around the port’s main control room, as a significant number of people were believed to have been working there at the time of the explosion.

A 55-strong French contingent was at the heart of rescue efforts.

The team’s leader, Colonel Tissier, compared the site to ‘ground zero’ after the September 11 attacks in New York, and also to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

A map showing the scale of Beirut's port explosion that was felt across the region.
A map showing the scale of Beirut's port explosion that was felt across the region. © RFI/Graphics department

Port officials detained as angry Lebanese protest

In response to the explosion, Lebanese authorities have detained 21 suspects as of Friday, including Beirut port’s general manager, as well as customs officials and engineers.

Dozens more were being interrogated by Lebanon's military court, including government authorities who may have ignored warnings about explosive materials at the port.

However, these measures did not quell the anger of dozens of angry anti-government demonstrators who stormed the streets of central Beirut on Thursday.

Some vandalised stores and threw stones at security forces who fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

On Friday, President Macron visited Beirut's badly affected Gemmayzeh neighborhood.
On Friday, President Macron visited Beirut's badly affected Gemmayzeh neighborhood. AFP

An impending humanitarian crisis?

The United Nations and The World Health Organisation were quick to raise the alarm about the situation in Lebanon.

Nearly 80,000 children were among the 300,000 people who had been left homeless, UNICEF said on Friday.

Moreover, The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) warned of severe disruption to food provisions, as 85 percent of Lebanon’s food was imported.

The World Health Organization (WHO), pointed at a possible shortage of medical provisions. It said it lost several containers of essential medical supplies in the blast, including personal protective equipment (PPE) that was completely burnt.

(With AFP and France 24)

 

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