A huge explosion in the port area devastated Lebanon’s capital , Beirut , on Tuesday afternoon 4 August .
At least 4,000 are injured, according to Health Minister Hamad Hassan , but the number is likely to increase. The hospitals in the capital – already under pressure for the Covid-19 epidemic – are full of wounded, many of whom are in need of emergency interventions. According to what is learned, among the people involved there is also an Italian soldier, albeit in a light way.
There are 78 dead, again according to the Minister of Health : but this is a provisional budget . The Lebanese Red Cross has reported an unknown number of people still buried under the rubble and trapped in their homes. Premier Hassan Diab has decided that Wednesday will be a day of national mourning in Lebanon.
Diab spoke of a “catastrophe”, the “perpetrators” of whom they will be called to “account” . Lebanese President Michel Aoun convened the Supreme Defense Council for an urgent meeting. “What happened in Beirut recalls Hiroshima and Nagasaki , nothing like this had ever happened in the past in Lebanon,” said the governor of the Lebanese capital, Marwan Abboud , in tears .
(Here the photos)
In the images distributed on local TV and social networks, a dense column of white smoke is first seen – the result, according to what reported by the New York Times, of a first outbreak, or of a fire -, at the base of which we see secondary explosions , minor and colorful. A few moments later, a giant mushroom- shaped shock wave is seen , gradually hitting several buildings, causing them to collapse. Once the mushroom vapor has disappeared, a very tall column of dense orange-red smoke remains .
Vast areas of the harbor have been razed to the ground , and balconies and windows have collapsed kilometers from the site of the explosion. Hundreds of buildings damaged, including the Baabda Palace, the President’s residence. The roar of the explosion was also heard in Nicosia, Cyprus , nearly 200 kilometers northwest of the Lebanese capital , according to Reuters .
The causes of the explosion and “highly explosive” materials
There are still no certainties on the causes of the explosion (here the article by Lorenzo Cremonesi: «Accident or attack?») .
According to reports initially reported by local TV stations, the first outbreak occurred in a fireworks depot . The second devastating explosion instead originated from a nearby warehouse. The Interior Minister explained that “highly explosive” materials were exploded in this second warehouse – “2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate seized several years ago by a ship,” said President Michel Aoun, quoted by the BBC online, after the emergency meeting of the Supreme Defense Council in the presidential palace in Baabda. It is “unacceptable,” Aoun wrote in a tweet, that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were kept in unsafe conditions. An investigation is underway to find out what caused the explosion. According to reports from the Ap agency, nitrate explosions usually cause columns of toxic orange-red fumes, such as the one seen at the port of Beirut.
It is not known why that material was kept so close to the port, nor what exactly the repository was or what it was used for, and finally why it was so vulnerable. The premier said on TV that that “dangerous warehouse” had been used “since 2014”.
“I saw a fireball and a column of smoke rising above Beirut. There were people running and screaming everywhere, with blood on their faces, “a witness told Reuters. Another witness, quoted by the same agency, spoke of ” a situation of total chaos “. A passerby quoted by the AP agency said: “This country is cursed . “
International tensions and the Hariri murder trial
The terrible outbreak at the port occurred while Lebanon is experiencing one of the most serious economic and financial crises in recent years, and as tensions rise between Israel and the Shiite group Hezbollah .
Shortly after the explosion, the Israeli authorities said they had “nothing to do” with what had happened. Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli N12 television that the explosion would be “an accident” caused by “a fire”.
Several countries – from France to Great Britain, from the USA to Iran, to Israel – have offered aid. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that Italy “will do everything it can to support” the Lebanese people; Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed “our deep condolences” for what happened.
US military officials think the explosion in Beirut was an attack, a bomb of some kind: Donald Trump said in a press conference in the White House.
The explosion also came three days before the Hague Tribunal verdict on the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri , killed in Beirut on February 14, 2005 along with 21 other people. The political repercussions of that crime have profoundly changed the regional balance. Four defendants in absentia are barred , all members of Hezbollah : Salim Ayash, Habib Merhi, Hussein Oneissi and Assaad Sabra.
There was also a fifth defendant, Mustafa Badreddin, considered the mastermind of the Valentine’s Day attack, but was killed in Damascus in 2016. The accused are accused of “terrorist plot and pre-intentional murder” and other indictments connected.