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.


Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with top military officials in Yerevan on September 27, 2020. Arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020 accused each other of initiating deadly clashes that claimed at least 23 lives over a decades-long territorial dispute and threatened to draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2020

Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

  • Turkey, under the leadership of Recept Tayyip Er4dogan, is also blamed for meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya
  • Syrian mercenaries reportedly recruited with the help of Turkish intelligence agency

JEDDAH: Amid the rising escalation of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ankara has offered its full diplomatic support to Baku.
This is along with widespread reports that it has arranged a flow of Syrian jihadists to the Azeri territories via Turkey to boost its regional partner’s military resilience during the clashes.
However, after its controversial meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya, its active engagement in a conflict in the South Caucasus has sparked criticism about how far Ankara can go to expand its regional ambitions.
“We strongly condemn the Armenian attack that caused civilian losses and that is a clear violation of international law. Turkey fully supports Azerbaijan. We’ll stand with it anyway it wishes,” read a Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement on Sept. 27.
Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.
Sources from the Syrian National Army (SNA) reportedly announced that up to 1,000 jihadists were deployed to Azerbaijan as mercenaries, while sources from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia reported that hundreds of Syrian mercenaries were moved through Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis.
Hikmet Durgun, a Turkish journalist, claimed that these SNA militants would be deployed toward Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed landlocked region in the South Caucasus.
Sources reached by Arab News also claimed that some of the mercenaries were drawn from Turkish-backed factions on the Libyan battleground.
Syrian mercenaries are said to be recruited through the intermediary of the Turkish intelligence agency with a promised monthly wage of $2,000 each, and have been transported via Turkish military cargo planes to the Azeri cities of Ganja and Baku using the airspace of Georgia.
“About a month ago, rumors spread on WhatsApp among SNA fighters that they can register to go to Azerbaijan. Many registered over WhatsApp, others apparently through offices in the Turkish-controlled areas. The fighters registered due to the enticing rumored salaries of $2K-$2.5K,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Center for Global Policy, tweeted.

HIGHLIGHT

Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.

Idlib post, a local news site in the Syrian Idlib province, also confirmed with a photo that a group of 300 fighters of the Syrian National Army left from the Syrian territories in the countryside of Aleppo to Azerbaijan via Turkey.
Award-winning journalist Lindsey Snell claimed that they were mainly selected from the Hamza division, a Syrian rebel group in northwestern Syria that has cooperated, as a proxy force, with the Turkish Armed Forces in military operations in northern Syria.
In the meantime, the official visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Ankara on Sunday was abruptly canceled.
Paul Antonopoulos, a regional expert, expects that Sunday’s clashes will end in a cease-fire after pressure from the EU, Russia, and perhaps even the US, to end hostilities.
“Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian military alliance led by Russia. This would likely deter Turkey from directly intervening militarily and thus the conflict will be contained between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, urged the international community to “use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey, which will ultimately destabilize the situation in the region.” He also said that Turkey’s behavior could have destructive consequences for the South Caucasus and neighboring regions.
Antonopoulos thinks that there is strong evidence that Turkey has transferred militants from northern Syria to Azerbaijan, and will likely use this proxy force in the same way that they were used in Libya.
“Turkey will unequivocally support Azerbaijan in every possible way they can bar a direct military intervention. Turkey’s strong diplomatic support for Azerbaijan will continue, as well as material and intelligence aid,” he said. “I would estimate that when there is enough international pressure to end the hostilities, Russia and Turkey will mediate together to bring a temporary end to the hostilities.”
Joseh Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke to ministers in Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday evening to urge an immediate cease-fire and called them to return to the negotiation table.
However, some pro-government journalists in Turkey called for the use of military force against Armenia to protect Azeri interests.
Ibrahim Karagul, the chief editor of one of the key pro-government newspapers, Yenisafak, advised the dropping of a “missile in the middle of Yerevan” to show Turkish solidarity for Azerbaijan, adding: “In this way, we can build a Caucasus Islam Army within 100 years.”