Massive blast rocks Beirut's port area, killing at least 50 and injuring 2,700

A huge explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 50 people, injured thousands and sent sho

توسط PATRIS-FUN در 15 مرداد 1399

A huge explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 50 people, injured thousands and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

The most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years shook the ground, leaving some residents thinking an earthquake had struck. People walked through streets, dazed and weeping and some of them wounded, checking to see if relatives were hurt.

The blast occurred in the city's port area. Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, which had been seized years ago and stored there, had blown up. Lebanon-based broadcaster Mayadeen cited the country's customs director saying tonnes of nitrate exploded.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media initially showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast that sent a ball of white smoke and a fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings in other areas of the city were thrown backward by the shock.

WATCH: Explosions at port in Lebanon's capital Tuesday afternoon:

Witnesses described the scene as 'total chaos.' 1:13

In televised remarks Tuesday evening, Lebanon's health minister said more than 50 people had been killed and more than 2,700 injured.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country's Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency's Twitter account. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The explosion occurred three days before a United Nations-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shia group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing that killed former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze that set off Tuesday's blast.

Tweet from CBC News contributor Rebecca Collard:

"It was like a nuclear explosion," said Walid Abdo, a 43-year-old school teacher in the neighborhood of Gemayzeh near Beirut.

Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said it started as small explosions like firecrackers, then the huge blast erupted and he was thrown off his feet. His clothes were torn.

WATCH | Rebecca Collard reports from near the explosion: 

CBC News contributor Rebecca Collard says the true number of casualties and scope of damage from an explosion in Beirut Tuesday may not be known for days. 5:32

Witnesses report 'total chaos'

Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast. 

Israel has offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz later said.

"Israel has approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance," a written statement from Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city's western tip, to Rabieh 10 kilometres to the east. For a long time after the blast, ambulance sirens sounded across the city and helicopters hovered above.

"I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street," a witness told Reuters.

The health minister told Reuters there was a "very high number" of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded.

Another witness told Reuters she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames and black smoke: "All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos."

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what caused the blast, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any UN personnel.

"We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether it's accidental or [a] manmade act," he said.

In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 180 kilometres northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.

Time of tumult

The explosions come at a time of tumult in the country. 

Lebanon's economic and financial crisis poses the most significant threat to the country since a devastating 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The highly indebted government is facing a rapid inflation, soaring unemployment and poverty, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of Lebanese protesters tried to storm the Ministry of Energy on Tuesday, angered by prolonged power cuts as the country grapples with the crippling economic crisis.

An injured man is seen following an explosion in Beirut on Tuesday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

Security forces pushed back against the angry protesters, chasing away some who breached the ministry perimeter. Scuffles ensued as protesters pushed the metal barricade and said they plan to set up a sit-in at the ministry.

For decades, the country has struggled with power cuts and a huge public debt for the national electricity company, which racks up a deficit of nearly $2 billion a year.

But rationing has increased since June, and became so severe that residents reported only a couple of hours of electricity per day in some areas.

Lebanon's problems are rooted in years of mismanagement.

Tensions heightened between Hezbollah, Israel

On the political front, there has been heightened tension following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria and anticipation that the militant Lebanese group would retaliate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned Hezbollah and others after Israeli forces said they thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria by suspected militants.

The Israeli military announced late Monday that it had struck targets in Syria after the militants tried to plant explosives in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel struck the four suspects, who were believed to have been killed.

Netanyahu, who toured a military base on Tuesday, said Israel would not hesitate to take further action.

"We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves. I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this," he said.

Firefighters spray water at a fire after a huge explosion rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

Last week, Israel also said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.

Israel considers Hezbollah to be its most immediate threat. Since battling Israel to a stalemate during a month-long war in 2006, Hezbollah has gained more battlefield experience fighting alongside the Syrian government in that country's bloody civil war.

(CBC News)
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