At least 135 killed, 5,000 injured in massive explosions devastating Beirut

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Ground zero of the Beirut blast. (AFP)
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Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut. (Reuters)
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A wounded man is checked by a fireman near the scene of an explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Aftermath of a massive explosion is seen in in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP)
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Smoke billows following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. (AFP)
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A helicopter drops water on the blaze. (AFP)
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A view through a broken window accross Beirut's ground zero. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2020

At least 135 killed, 5,000 injured in massive explosions devastating Beirut

  • Death toll rises as search continues for survivors
  • Nightmare scene ‘was like a nuclear bomb’

BEIRUT: More than 135 people were killed and thousands were injured on Tuesday when a massive explosion ripped through the port area of Beirut.

The initial death toll was reported as approximately 73, but on Wednesday afternoon officials said the number of those killed now stood at in excess of 135. 

In a short televised speech Prime Minister Hassan Diab appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation, saying: “We are witnessing a real catastrophe.”

He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price, without commenting on the cause.

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Footage shared by the Lebanese army on Wednesday showed the devastation at the ground zero of yesterday's blast.

When the blast happened windows shattered throughout the Lebanese capital and balconies were blown off apartment buildings as a giant plume of smoke soared into the air in nightmare scenes that witnesses said reminded of them of a nuclear bomb blast.

“What happened is like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions. Nothing remains,” Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said after inspecting the the scene of the explosion.

The city’s hospitals were overwhelmed with injured victims, and the death toll was expected to rise overnight as the full scale of the disaster became apparent.

It began at about 6 p.m. with a fire at a warehouse in the port, a few small explosions as if from firecrackers, and then one giant blast that sent shockwaves throughout the city and was heard as far away as Cyprus in the Mediterranean.

A plume of white smoke turned pink, and then red, and fires burned for hours.

Among the worst-hit buildings was the HQ of the state power company, EDL, immediately opposite the port. Dozens of staff were injured, including the company’s general manager Kamal Hayek.

The blast happened during a meeting of the Lebanese Phalange Party in Al-Saifi, near the port, and Kataeb Party secretary general Nizar Najarian was killed.

Shocked residents poured into the streets from their homes, with many hurt by flying glass and broken doors and furniture. Some walked to the nearest pharmacy, while the more seriously injured were ferried to hospital by car and motorcycle.

Soldiers tried to clear the streets of dazed civilians, some of them drenched from head to toe in their own blood. Volunteers led survivors away to seek medical help, using their shirts as bandages.

Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired teacher who has lived near the port for decades, said it was “like an atomic bomb.”
“I’ve experienced everything, but nothing like this before," even during the 1975-1990 civil war, she said. “All the buildings around here have collapsed. I’m walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark.”
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said. “It appears that there is a warehouse containing material that was confiscated years ago, and it appears that it was highly explosive.” Experts said the plume of red smoke suggested the material was probably ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertiliser.




Lebanese firefighters work at the scene of an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. (AFP)

Messages of support and offers of help poured into Lebanon after the blast. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the Kingdom expressed “its deepest condolences to the victims of the Beirut explosion.”

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Wednesday a day of mourning, and said those responsible for the explosion would pay the price. “I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,” he said.


Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

Updated 29 September 2020

Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

  • Opposition party submits parliamentary question on torture after villagers allegedly thrown from military helicopter

ANKARA: The mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey is under the spotlight again following allegations of torture and food poisoning.

Three politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who were recently arrested said they were hospitalized with food poisoning during their detention, while Amnesty International has demanded the government investigate allegations that two Kurds were thrown out of a military helicopter.

The government accuses the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and thousands of its members have been prosecuted for the same reason, including its leaders. The HDP denies such links. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US.

The HDP politicians, including Ayhan Bilgen who is mayor of Van province, fell ill after eating food served at Ankara police headquarters.

Bilgen was not immediately taken to hospital, nor was he allowed to talk to his legal team until after HDP lawmakers had talked with government officials to have him hospitalized.

The trio are under arrest as part of a probe into violent protests that took place in Kobane in 2014. Their detention period was extended on Monday by another four days.

Amnesty International has urged the government to investigate allegations that two Kurds, aged 55 and 50, were thrown from a military helicopter in Van. The rights group voiced its concerns about the “allegations of torture and mistreatment” which it said were unacceptable under international human rights law and standards that Turkey was obliged to comply with.

The men alleged to have been thrown out of a military helicopter were arrested on Sept. 11 as part of an operation against the PKK. Both were hospitalized and had signs of heavy beatings on their bodies.

One of the men was shown to the media with a bloodied face. He is experiencing memory loss. The other man’s condition remains critical. He is suffering from brain trauma, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and has been in intensive care for more than two weeks.

Relatives of the villagers have demanded justice and the uncovering of the truth through a proper investigation.

Amnesty International wants Turkey to investigate the case impartially, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has submitted a parliamentary question about the allegations of torture.

HDP lawmaker Ali Kenanoglu said his party would follow up the mistreatment allegations at a domestic and international level.

“Kurds have become the scapegoat of the current regime because they are considered as the easiest target that doesn’t have any strong social support behind it,” he told Arab News. “Currently all policies involving war and violence are conducted by targeting Kurds. The mistreatment regarding this segment of society has not received strong backing so far, which opens more room for such efforts.”

Once the Kurdish lawmakers were arrested they were automatically under state protection, he said. “However, state impunity still prevails when it comes to the implementation of the rights of Kurdish community.”

On Monday, HDP deputies and officials were outside the parliament building to protest against the detention of their colleagues, who are accused of inciting violence in Kobane.

Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, called for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment of Kurdish villagers.

“Those found to be responsible should be brought to justice in a fair trial,” she told Arab News. “Turkey is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, both of which it is a party to. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe is tasked with monitoring places of detention in member states and can ask questions regarding the cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment. As Amnesty International, we will continue monitoring the developments in this shocking case.”

Buyum said that people in detention must be allowed access to their lawyers once they were deprived of their liberty.

“The delay in speaking to the lawyers is concerning. The HDP representatives have been able to consult their legal representatives after four days. They still don't know the substance of the allegations they face as they have not yet been questioned.”

The rights group said that there was increased concern about detention conditions because of the pandemic, and that authorities should step up their efforts to ensure the health and safety of those in custody.

Separately, a Kurdish singer said on Monday that he had been warned by security and intelligence officials against singing in his mother tongue and to stay away from HDP events.

“You will be in trouble if you sing in Kurdish again,” Cesim Basboga was reportedly told. "You’ve been provoking people with songs.”

Basboga will file a complaint.