Israeli Strikes On Syria Kill 23 – Monitor

 

Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, a war monitor said Wednesday.

The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 strikes against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Ezzor to the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The raids killed seven Syrian soldiers and 16 non-Syrian militia fighters whose nationalities were not immediately known, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, operate in the region, the Observatory said.

The raids also wounded 28 troops and militiamen, some of them critically.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman called the Israeli raids the “deadliest since June 2018” when strikes on the same region killed at least 55 pro-government fighters, including Iraqis as well as Syrians.

In November, similar raids on eastern Syria killed at least 19 pro-Iran militia fighters, the monitor said.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the latest strikes but gave few details.

“At 1:10 am (2310 GMT Tuesday), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Albu Kamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source.

“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added.

It was the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week.

The last strikes on January 7 targeted positions in southern Syria and in the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.

Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets linked to Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent its arch foe from consolidating a foothold on its northern border.

Israel hit around 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.

Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Lebanon Police Scuffle With Students Protesting Tuition Increase

Lebanese students protest a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition in Beirut’s Hamra district on December 19, 2020. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

Lebanese riot police on Saturday scuffled with students protesting a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition — equivalent to a major fee hike.

Near the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city’s Hamra district, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to approach the main gate.

Students responded by throwing water bottles and other objects at riot police blocking their path.

It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.

The protest came in response to a decision by AUB and the Lebanese American University (LAU), another top private institution, to price tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

The nosediving currency is still officially pegged at around 1,500 pounds to the greenback.

The move has prompted fears that other universities could follow suit, potentially leading to an exodus of students from private institutions while public universities remain underfunded and overstretched.

Hundreds of students had gathered in Hamra earlier Saturday in a protest they billed a “student day of rage”.

They chanted anti-government slogans and called for affordable education in a country mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

 

The protest came in response to a decision by AUB and the Lebanese American University (LAU), another top private institution, to price tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. Near the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city’s Hamra district, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to approach the main gate. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

Later in the evening, some torched dumpsters to block the street and vandalised banks before security forces pushed them out.

Over the past year, the Lebanese pound has lost up to 80 percent of its value on the black market, where on Saturday the dollar was selling for at least 8,200 pounds.

Universities have struggled to adapt to the de facto devaluation as prices nationwide have soared.

Commercial banks have halted dollar transactions and restricted withdrawals of Lebanese pounds, in moves that have starved many of their savings.

According to the United Nations, more than half of Lebanon’s population is now living in poverty.

Lebanon PM Diab, Ex-Ministers Indicted Over Port Blast

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on May 21, 2020 shows Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaking during a press conference at the governmental palace in the capital Beirut. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

 

Lebanon’s lead investigator into the catastrophic Beirut port explosion charged outgoing premier Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with negligence on Thursday, a judicial source said.

They are the first politicians to be indicted over the devastating August 4 blast that killed more than 200 people, disfigured the heart of the capital and stoked a wave of public anger against Lebanon’s ruling elite.

The four were charged with “negligence and causing death to hundreds and injuries to thousands more” in the first such official indictment against a prime minister in office in Lebanese history, the judicial source said.

After the blast, it emerged top security officials and politicians had known for years about hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored haphazardly at the Beirut port but had failed to take precautionary measures.

The decision by judge Fadi Sawan came after the investigation confirmed the suspects had received “several written notices warning them against postponing the disposal of ammonium nitrate fertiliser,” the source said.

“They also did not take the necessary measures to avoid the devastating explosion and its enormous damage,” added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

 

A Lebanese couple inspects the damage to their house in an area overlooking the destroyed Beirut port on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Diab, who resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion, already testified before Sawan in September.

His office on Thursday said the outgoing premier’s conscience was clear.

“He is confident that his hands are clean and that he has handled the Beirut Port blast file in a responsible and transparent manner,” it said in a statement.

– Judge to question suspects –
The other senior officials charged are former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil and the ex-ministers of public works Yusef Fenianos and Ghazi Zaiter.

The United States in September slapped sanctions on Khalil and Fenianos for alleged corruption and support of the powerful Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement.

READ ALSO: Suicide Car Bomb Kills 26 Afghan Security Personnel

In a letter to parliament late last month, judge Sawan asked lawmakers to investigate several outgoing and former ministers, including Khalil, Fenianos and Zaiter, over the blast.

The letter came after Sawan’s investigations raised “certain suspicions about the responsibility of those ministers and their failure towards addressing the presence of the ammonium nitrate at the port”.

The judicial source Thursday said parliament had not responded to Sawan’s request, prompting him to press charges.

Sawan will begin questioning the suspects from Monday, the source said.

Diab on Thursday told Sawan he respected the rule of law, but accused the judge of bypassing parliament and said he had already “provided all the information he had regarding this file”.

The investigation has so far triggered the arrest of 25 people, including top port and customs officials.

Lebanese officials have rejected an international probe, despite demands both at home and abroad for an impartial investigation.

Experts from France and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation took part in the preliminary investigation.

– Decades of negligence –
Public anger has simmered over the pace of the investigation, which had until Thursday spared top political officials widely accused for the country’s worst peace-time disaster.

Lebanese on social media cautiously welcomed the charges, but urged more to be done.

“All this could remain a mere attempt to calm public opinion unless it comes with serious investigations into the responsibility of these and other ministers who have not yet been summoned,” Lebanese rights group Legal Agenda wrote on Twitter.

Many blame the blast on decades of negligence and corruption by the country’s ruling elite, who include former warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war.

On July 20, Diab and President Michel Aoun had both received a report from the State Security agency warning of the danger posed by the highly unstable material at the port.

After the explosion, the agency confirmed it had alerted authorities in a detailed report quoting a chemical expert who had visited the warehouse.

If ignited, the ammonium nitrate would cause a huge explosion that would be especially destructive to the port, warned the report seen by AFP.

The Beirut Bar Association has handed the public prosecutor hundreds of criminal complaints from victims of the explosion.

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, but its divided political class has for months failed to agree on a new cabinet to implement desperately needed reforms.

Saad Hariri, who stepped down as premier last year following mass anti-government protests, is set to make a comeback after he was tasked to form a government in October.

AFP

Half Of Lebanese Could Face Food Shortages – UN

(FILES) In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

More than half of Lebanon’s population risk facing a food crisis in the aftermath of a Beirut port blast that compounded the country’s many woes, a UN agency said Sunday.

“More than half of the country’s population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year’s end,” the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said.

“Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis,” ESCWA executive secretary Rola Dashti said.

Lebanon’s government, she said, must prioritise the rebuilding of silos at the Beirut port, the country’s largest grain storage.

Lebanon was mired in an economic collapse even before the cataclysmic August 4 cataclysmic blast at Beirut’s port, which killed 188 people, wounded thousands and destroyed swathes of the capital.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt, while the local currency has plummeted in value on the black market and poverty rates have soared, on top of a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.

“The yearly average inflation rate is expected to be more than 50 percent in 2020, compared with 2.9 percent in 2019,” ESCWA said in a statement.

Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the annihilation of the silos at the Beirut port could worsen an already alarming situation, aid agencies and experts have said.

ESCWA said increased transaction costs of food imports could lead to a further rise in prices.

To prevent a crisis, authorities must set a ceiling for food prices and encourage direct sales from local producers to consumers, Dashti added

She also urged the international community to “expand food security programmes targeting refugees and host communities” to help defuse “potential social tensions”.

Earlier this month, ESCWA said more than 55 percent of the Lebanese are “trapped in poverty and struggling for bare necessities”.

AFP

UN Experts Demand Beirut Explosion Probe

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. HAZEM BADER / AFP.

 

UN human rights experts on Thursday demanded a swift, independent investigation into the catastrophic Beirut explosion, citing deep concern about irresponsibility and impunity in Lebanon.

The group also called for a relatively-rare special debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council this September.

UN experts do not speak for the United Nations but report their findings to it.

Lebanon’s president has rejected any international probe into the Beirut port blast, as demanded by protesters.

“We support calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and independent investigation based on human rights principles, to examine all claims, concerns and needs in relation to the explosion as well as the underlying human rights failures,” some 38 UN experts said in a joint statement.

The investigation should have a broad mandate to probe “any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect human rights”.

“We are deeply concerned about the level of irresponsibility and impunity surrounding human and environmental devastation on this scale,” they said.

The investigation should protect the confidentiality of victims and witnesses, and its findings should be made public, the experts said.

AFP

Prosecution Says To Grill Ministers Over Beirut Blast

A member of the Lebanese security forces inspects damages in the Parliament building in the central district of the capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020, a day after a massive explosion in the city’s port. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

Lebanon’s judiciary will question several ministers, a judicial official said Wednesday, over a massive chemical blast at a Beirut port warehouse that ravaged the capital and sparked unprecedented public outrage.

Survivors and volunteers were still sweeping pulverised glass off rubble-strewn streets a week after a large depot of industrial chemicals blew up at Beirut’s port, a blast President Michel Aoun estimated had caused more than $15 billion-worth of damage.

The official death toll rose to 171, while 6,500 were injured and 300,000 left temporarily homeless in the country’s worst peacetime disaster.

Top diplomats streamed into Lebanon to show solidarity and urge reforms to curb the corruption blamed for allowing a vast stock of ammonium nitrate, a compound often used in homemade bombs, to rot for years at the port despite repeated warnings.

 

A Lebanese couple inspect the damage to their house in an area overlooking the destroyed Beirut port on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital.  (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

An AFP investigation found that up until the day before the deadly blast, officials had exchanged warnings over the cargo, but did nothing despite experts’ fears it could cause a massive conflagration.

A judicial official said Wednesday that the prosecution would question several ministers and former ministers over the disaster.

Meanwhile, at Beirut’s main fire station, a stone’s throw from the charred and ruined port, firefighters held an emotional funeral for one of 10 comrades they lost in the catastrophe.

 

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Lebanese army soldier and a man carry away an injured man at a hospital in the aftermath of an explosion at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

“May God be with you, our hero,” firefighters cried as they saw off the coffin of their lost friend Jo Noun during their fourth such ceremony since the August 4 disaster.

Ten firefighters are confirmed to have died, and six more are still among the missing, including three members of the same family.

Rina Hitti, the mother of one and related to the two others, said: “In one piece or several, we want our sons back.”

 

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Wounded people received help outside a hospital following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – (Photo by IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

Direct aid

Emergency crews on Wednesday were still searching the dusty “ground zero” where the explosion pulverised buildings and left a water-logged 43-metre-deep crater where a quay and warehouses once stood.

The human error that sparked devastation worthy of a major earthquake has sparked public rage, matched only by the speed at which officials are seen to be passing the buck.

Around 100 of the wounded were recently still listed in critical condition and it was feared the death toll could yet rise as Beirut’s hospitals treat the casualties.

 

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Wounded people wait to receive treatment outside a hospital following an explosion near the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020.(Photo by IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

More than half of 55 healthcare facilities evaluated by the World Health Organization were “non-functional,” the agency said Wednesday, adding that three major hospitals were out of operation and another three running at well below normal capacity, he said.

Among those killed was a diplomat from Germany, whose Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived in Lebanon Wednesday for a short visit of support.

In a social media message, he stressed the need for “profound economic reform”.

He also announced one million-euro donation directly to the Lebanese Red Cross, in line with a pledge that emergency aid should bypass a government that has lost its people’s trust.

 

An injured man sits next to a restaurant in the trendy partially destroyed Beirut neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. – Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut today after a cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

Jockeying

Angry protesters demonstrated for a third night running Tuesday to demand the wholesale ouster of a ruling political elite they see as directly responsible for the port tragedy.

Mock gallows and nooses have become the symbols of the new wave of protests, which have rekindled a revolutionary street movement that had lost steam in recent months amid economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.

 

A Lebanese protester hurls a rock towards security forces during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Under intense domestic and foreign pressure, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his government’s resignation on Monday.

Many have bitterly dismissed his efforts to cast himself as a champion of the fight against corruption, labelling him instead as a puppet of the long-standing political elite.

Some saw the government’s departure as a victory and a sign that continued pressure could finally force change in a country ruled by the same cartel of former warlords and their relatives since the 1975-1990 civil war.

 

Lebanese protesters hurl rocks towards security forces during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Others feared that the resignation could herald the return of old faces such as former prime minister Saad Hariri.

According to the Al-Akhbar newspaper, Nawaf Salam, a former judge at the International Court of Justice, is favoured by some of Lebanon’s top foreign partners, including France.

 

A Lebanese protester waves the national flag during clashes with security forces in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. JOSEPH EID / AFP
A Lebanese protester waves the national flag during clashes with security forces in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. JOSEPH EID / AFP

However, the paper said, Salam is not an acceptable choice for powerful Iranian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday warned Tehran against interfering in Lebanon, urging his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani “to avoid any outside interference and to support the putting in place of a government which can manage the emergency,” the Elysee said.

 

Lebanese protesters pull on barbed-wire, erected by security forces, during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Meanwhile, a return of Hariri, who resigned under pressure from the street late last year, could spark even more outrage among a protest camp re-invigorated by the disaster.

Parliament was due to convene on Thursday to approve a state of emergency, which would give security forces heightened powers to curb the street demonstrations.

 

A Palestinian girl carries the national flag and the Lebanese flag during a candle light vigil in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 5, 2020, in support of Lebanon a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

 

-AFP

Lebanon Blast: Political Game Changer Or Hollow Blow?

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion near the the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

Last week’s cataclysmic explosion has ripped Beirut apart but was it strong enough to topple the entrenched ruling class whose greed and incompetence are blamed for it?

The masters of Lebanon’s political pie-sharing game have not changed in decades: warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war who traded their fatigues for suits.

Many Lebanese want their reviled leaders to bite the dust over the August 4 explosion, which killed at least 160 people and disfigured the capital.

Under pressure from all sides, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his government’s resignation on Monday but it remains to be seen whether new faces are brought in or the usual suspects brought back.

– New system? –

Authorities say the blast was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertiliser had been left unsecured for years.

Whatever the cause of the fire is, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the officials in charge of the port.

The disgust that had fuelled nationwide protests last year demanding a complete overhaul of the political system turned to fully-fledged rage and thirst for revenge.

Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s 85-year-old president and a symbol of the status quo, acknowledged the need to “reconsider” the country’s governance.

In his resignation speech, Diab said he wanted to join the people in holding decades-old rulers accountable, saying: “Their corruption created this tragedy.”

The two men’s attempts to distance themselves from the political elite failed to convince many ordinary Lebanese, who saw nothing more than an exercise in buck-passing and self-preservation.

Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said the fallout from the blast was a potential “game-changer” because the street would accept nothing less than radical change.

He said the resentment towards established parties could finally create a space for the emergence of “new political formations”.

– Square Zero –

Jeffrey G. Karam assistant professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, was less hopeful.

“It is almost impossible to consider and even imagine that the blast will sweep away the ruling political class,” he told AFP.

“The ruling class will absorb the shock, anger, frustration and actually exploit the blood in the streets,” he said.

It will “promise short-term solutions to simply manufacture consent and some sense of normalcy,” he predicted.

Karam said one possible scenario moving forward is the formation of a so-called national unity government that includes representatives of all the country’s main political parties, some under the guise of technocratic nominees.

This would mean “we’re back to square zero.”

Diad suggested early polls before resigning but a fresh vote would just return the same elite if the electoral law is not thoroughly reviewed.

“Our political class is immune to human tragedy, especially given that almost all of them are warlords,” Karam said.

“Unfortunately, a few hundred blast victims will not trigger a mass scale response from the political elite.”

– Outside rescue? –

Foreign sponsors were long the main lifeline for Lebanon’s economy and the financiers of the patronage networks of its rival political parties but the money flow has dried up in recent years.

The blast rocked Lebanon at a time when it was already on its knees, having defaulted on its debt and seen poverty rise to near third world levels.

Despite the economic emergency, Lebanon’s barons were resisting the reforms demanded by Western donors but the extra burden and popular anger generated by the port blast will further reduce its room for manoeuvre.

On the first visit by a head of state to Lebanon since the explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron last week called for a “new political order”.

An emergency international conference he organised for blast victims on Sunday raised a quarter of a billion dollars he vowed would bypass the government.

LAU political science professor Bassel Salloukh argued that this kind of outside pressure was a potent weapon to change what he described as a “zombie political system”.

“The August 4 explosion changes everything: the political elite have no more manoeuvering room,” he said.

“They will find it very difficult to avoid the kind of structural reforms that the international community has made a precondition for any aid,” he added.

“Will that uproot the political system? No, but it forces them to make the kind of concessions they have long resisted.”

AFP

‘I Don’t Want To Die’: Blast Traumatises Beirut Children

Graphic content / Wounded people wait to received help outside a hospital following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020.  (Photo by IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

 

“I don’t want to die.” Those were the first words Hiba’s six-year-old son screamed after the massive explosion at Beirut port sent shards of glass flying around their house. 

The blast a week ago that temporarily displaced 100,000 children, according to a UN estimate, was so mighty it had the magnitude of an earthquake.

The mental shock it caused among Beirut’s youngest was just as powerful.

When the boy saw blood on his feet, “he started screaming: ‘Mom, I don’t want to die’,” Hiba recalled.

“What is this life? Coronavirus and an explosion!,” her son told her after the blast.

“Imagine that!” said the mother. “A child only six years old asking this question.”

The 35-year-old mother of two, who asked to withhold the names of her children and their family name, said her entire building shook when the catastrophe struck on August 4.

Her son, who was sitting on a living room couch just across from her, was speckled with shards of glass from a blown-out window.

“The shattered glass whirled around us,” Hiba said, a scene described by countless survivors.

For a few seconds, her son sat motionless and unscathed on the couch.

She then dragged him out of the room, the boy barefoot on a carpet of splintered glass that cut bloody gashes into his feet.

“My son now twitches in panic every time he hears a loud sound,” she said.

– ‘Bottling up emotions’ –
Hiba’s son was not the only one left traumatised. His infant sister, born just 16 days before the explosion, lost consciousness for 20 minutes.

“It took a lot of time before she began to wake up and start crying,” said Hiba, so shocked herself that she has struggled to breastfeed her since.

She said she now keeps her son in his room, surrounded by his toys, instead of in the living room where the television broadcasts scenes of grief and devastation all day long.

“I don’t know if he is bottling up his emotions,” Hiba said. “But I’m trying to spend a lot of time with him in case he needs to talk.”

The explosion that gutted swathes of the city killed at least 160 people and left 6,000 people physically wounded.

Children are among the casualties and the UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that “those who survived are traumatised and in shock”.

In a video widely shared on social media showing plumes of smoke rising from the harbourside, the almost playful voice of a child can initially be heard in the background, saying “explosion, explosion”.

When the impact from the massive blast hits him, the same child also screams, in English: “Mom, I don’t want to die.”

On Lebanese TV, the mother of a three-year-old girl killed in the blast gave an emotional testimony in which she shared her feeling of guilt about having tried to raise a child in a dysfunctional country.

“I want to apologise to Alexandra,” she said, “because I did not take her out of Lebanon.”

– ‘Anxiety, night terrors’ –
The Save the Children charity has warned of a severe strain on children’s mental health as a result of the blast.

“Without proper support, children might face long-term consequences,” it said in a statement.

Anne-Sophie Dybdal, the charity’s senior child protection advisor, warned of “anxiety, trouble sleeping, attacks of night terror”.

“The impact on children can be very deep,” she said.

Child psychologist Sophia Maamari said traumatised children may also develop separation anxiety that could make them fear even going to the bathroom without one of their parents.

Loud bangs may trigger fears of another blast and some children could go temporarily mute or tend toward self-isolation, the psychologist explained.

Maamari advised that parents should make their children feel like they are allowed to be scared by telling them that they too were frightened by the explosion.

This is one tip Noura picked up online when she was looking for information on how to handle her two traumatised children, aged three and four.

The 34-year-old mother said she had described to her kids in detail how she was gripped by fear and panic.

Her older son immediately responded to her admission by saying: “It was a big bam.”

Her youngest did not respond until the next day.

“I was very scared too,” she said the little boy whispered into her ear as soon as he woke up.

 

 

 

-AFP

Grief To Anger As Disaster-Hit Beirut Braces For Protests

Lebanese come together for a vigil held at Kensington gardens in central London to honour the victims of the Beirut blast on August 5, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

 

Thousands of Lebanese prepared Saturday for a major protest against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut.

Two days after a landmark visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, diplomatic activity intensified in Beirut to organise international support for the disaster-hit country ahead of a Sunday aid conference.

For the fourth day running, Beirut woke up to the sound of broken glass being swept on the streets, its inhabitants still taking stock after one of the biggest blasts of its kind in recent history.

A fire at Beirut port on Tuesday ignited a stock of ammonium nitrate and triggered an explosion that was felt in neighbouring countries and destroyed entire neighbourhoods of the city.

Spectacular videos of the disaster show a mushroom-shaped shockwave that drew comparisons with the 1945 atomic bombs on Japan while foreign rescue teams compared the devastation with earthquake scenes.

Saturday could be the last day anybody buried under rubble has any chance of being found alive and according to the health ministry, more than 60 people are still missing.

Solidarity for the victims of the blast, from inside and outside Lebanon, has been impressive but this disaster was man-made and residents want heads to roll.

– ‘Punish them’ –
The president and prime minister of Lebanon have promised that a government investigation would net the culprits but, more than a mere case of negligence, many Lebanese see the blast as a direct result of their leaders’ corruption.

“After three days of cleaning, removing rubble and licking our wounds… it is time to let our anger explode and punish them,” said Fares Halabi, a 28-year-old activist planned to join a protest scheduled for the afternoon.

Some protesters erected a mock gallows for Lebanon’s top politicians on Martyr’s Square, the epicentre of a protest movement that briefly rattled the country’s hereditary ruling class.

The lack of political change combined with a stinging economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic all but snuffed out the revolutionary movement — until this week.

“Today is the first demonstration since the explosion, an explosion in which any one of us could have died,” said Hayat Nazer, an activist who has contributed to solidarity initiatives for blast victims.

“This is the biggest warning for everyone now that we don’t have anything to lose anymore. Everyone should be in the streets today, everyone,” she told AFP.

However some of Lebanon’s leaders seemed to consider the outpouring of international solidarity as an opportunity to break the government’s diplomatic isolation.

– Foreign support –
A virtual international donor conference launched by Macron, and in which US President Donald Trump and other top leaders will take part, is scheduled for Sunday.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt earlier this year and the current leadership has so far consistently failed to address the economic emergency and agree on an international rescue package despite intense Western pressure.

Speaking on Friday evening, President Michel Aoun said “the explosion has led to the lifting of the isolation.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also said the disaster had created “an opportunity” to get the world to work with Lebanon again.

Three senior diplomats were in Beirut Saturday in a show of solidarity with the disaster-hit city, where 300,000 people were made temporarily homeless by the port explosion.

The first to meet top officials was Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was also expected, as was the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

– High-stakes probe –
Aoun however rejected calls backed by Macron for an international and independent investigation into the blast.

A total of 21 people have been detained so far, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon’s customs authority.

But few Lebanese seemed to have any trust that the leadership would incriminate its own in an investigation chaired by some of the country’s top officials.

Analyst Nasser Yassin of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said Lebanon’s reviled leaders were clearly seeking to take advantage of the situation.

“The fear is that the authorities will benefit from this great disaster and from the international and Arab attention they are getting,” he said.

Activist Hayat Nazer said the current crisis should not turn into a chance for the political elite to get a new lease of life but instead give fresh impetus to a drive for change.

“I think it’s the last wake-up call for people,” she said.

“We need to save each other, we need to clean our country, to rebuild it, and to completely disregard that we have politicians,” Nazer said.

“It’s not just about protesting in the streets. We can make a change on a daily basis, the revolution is part of our lives, we can apply it every day.”

 

 

 

-AFP

Sixteen Detained Over Beirut Blast – Prosecutor

A picture taken on August 5, 2020, shows a damaged house in the neighbourhood of Ashrafieh of the Lebanese capital Beirut’s eastern suburbs, a day after a devastating blast at the port of Lebanese’s capital, in Israel’s latest gesture towards a country with which it is technically at war.(Photo by Janine HAIDAR / AFP)

 

 

 

Sixteen staff members at Beirut’s port, the site of a massive explosion, have been detained over the deadly blast that devastated large parts of the city, a military prosecutor said Thursday.

Lebanese authorities had announced an investigation into Tuesday’s explosion, which they said was triggered by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at Beirut’s port.

Lebanon’s foreign minister said on French radio Thursday that an investigating committee had been given four days to determine responsibility for the blast, which killed more than 130 people and wounded at least 5,000.

Military prosecutor Fadi Akiki said in a statement that 18 staffers at Beirut’s port had been called in for questioning, 16 of whom remain in custody pending further investigations.

They include port and customs officials as well as maintenance workers and their managers, Akiki said.

His statement came as an official confirmed to AFP that the central bank had ordered an asset freeze for seven port and customs officials, including Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanon’s customs authority.

The official spoke on the condition of anonimity because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

A banking source confirmed to AFP that all the country’s commercial banks recieved the order, which also lifts banking secrecy from accounts owned or linked to those in question.

Even as they counted their dead and cleared streets of debris, many Lebanese were boiling with anger over a blast they see as the most shocking expression yet of their leadership’s incompetence.

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital. Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP

 

Many have raised questions as to how such a huge cargo of highly explosive material could have been left unsecured for years.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon on Thursday, called for an international enquiry, echoing demands widely supported in Lebanon and abroad for an independent probe.

AFP

‘A Tragedy Of ‘Monumental Proportions:’ Buhari Sympathizes With Lebanon Over Explosion

A picture taken on August 5, 2020, shows a damaged house in the neighbourhood of Ashrafieh of the Lebanese capital Beirut’s eastern suburbs, a day after a devastating blast at the port of Lebanese’s capital, in Israel’s latest gesture towards a country with which it is technically at war. (Photo by Janine HAIDAR / AFP).

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has sympathized with people of Lebanon following the explosions that rocked the country’s capital city, Beirut on Tuesday.

While condoling with President Michel Aoun over the incident, President Buhari described it as as “tragedy of monumental proportions.”

A statement by Presidential aide, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as pledging Nigeria’s solidarity to Lebanon at this period of travail.

“The President also extended the sympathy of government to the large community of Lebanese in Nigeria, praying that God will rest the souls of the dead, comfort the grieving, and grant succour to the wounded and displaced,” the statement read.

“Describing the explosions, suspected to be caused by tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, as “tragedy of monumental proportions,” President Buhari pledged the solidarity and brotherhood of Nigeria to Lebanon at this period of travails.”

 

A view shows the damage inside an apartment in the neighbourhood of Gemmayze on August 5, 2020, a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

 

The blast at Beirut port killed at least 137 people, left dozens missing, and at least 5,000 wounded, a Lebanese health ministry spokesperson said Thursday.

Tuesday’s explosion obliterated part of the port and caused damage over a wide radius in the heart of the city, prompting fears the final death toll could yet rise significantly.

Probing Blast

French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday called for an international investigation into the blast at Beirut’s port that killed more than 130 people and ravaged entire neighbourhoods, costing the country billions.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital.
Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP

 

 

“An international, open and transparent probe is needed to prevent things from remaining hidden and doubt from creeping in,” he told reporters at the end of a snap visit to the Lebanese capital.

In asking for an international enquiry, he joined calls widely supported in and outside Lebanon for an independent probe, and said French investigators were on their way to Beirut.

Lebanon Gives Investigating Committee Four Days To Find Culprits

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (C) wears a protective face mask as he visits the site of a massive explosion the previous day in the heart of the Lebanese Beirut on August 5, 2020. (Photo by – / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP)

 

 

The government of Lebanon has given an “investigative committee” four days to determine responsibility for the devastating explosion in Beirut port on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe told French radio Thursday.

“This morning, a decision was taken to create an investigative committee which in four days maximum must provide a detailed report on responsibility — how, who, what, where? There will be judicial decisions,” he told Europe 1 radio.

“It is serious, and we take it seriously,” Wehbe said.

“Those responsible for this horrible crime of negligence will be punished by a committee of judges,” he added.

 

A Palestinian girls carries the national flag and the Lebanese flag during a candle light vigil in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 5, 2020, in support of Lebanon a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A member of the Lebanese security forces inspects damages in the Parliament building in the central district of the capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020, a day after a massive explosion in the city’s port. . (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

The provisional death toll from the massive blast stood at 137 Thursday, but with dozens missing and 5,000 wounded, the number of victims was expected to rise as rescue workers continued to comb through the rubble.

The Beirut governor estimated up to 300,000 people may have been made temporarily homeless by the disaster, which he said would cost the debt-ridden country in excess of $3 billion.

On Wednesday, the government called for the house arrest of those responsible for the storage of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, a substance used in fertilisers and explosives, in the port of the Lebanese capital.

 

An injured man sits next to a restaurant in the trendy partially destroyed Beirut neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. – (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)
A view shows the damage inside an apartment in the neighbourhood of Gemmayze on August 5, 2020, a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

According to Lebanese officials, the explosion was caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of the substance in a portside warehouse.

“It is an accident… preliminary reports indicate it is mismanagement of explosive products. This is a very serious neglect that continued for six years,’ said Wehbe.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits behind bars, but trust in institutions is low and few on the streets of the Lebanese capital hold out hope of an impartial inquiry.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday supported mounting calls for an international probe as the only credible option.

 

A picture taken on August 5, 2020, shows a damaged house in the neighbourhood of Ashrafieh of the Lebanese capital Beirut’s eastern suburbs, a day after a devastating blast at the port of Lebanese’s capital, in Israel’s latest gesture towards a country with which it is technically at war. (Photo by Janine HAIDAR / AFP)

“An independent investigation with international experts is the best guarantee that victims of the explosion will get the justice they deserve,” the watchdog said.

In France, prosecutors on Wednesday opened a probe into the blast over injuries inflicted on 24 French citizens.

Flights carrying medical aid, field hospitals, rescue experts, and tracking dogs have been flying into Beirut airport since Wednesday.

 

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (C) wears a protective face mask as he visits the site of a massive explosion the previous day in the heart of the Lebanese Beirut on August 5, 2020. (Photo by – / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP)

And French President Emmanuel Macron was expected in Lebanon later Thursday, the highest-ranking foreign leader to visit since the tragedy.

Macron was due to meet Aoun and other political leaders as well as civil society representatives.

 

Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photos by Mouafac HARB / MOUAFAC HARB / AFP)

 

 

-AFP