Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’

Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’
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Emergency fire crews and shocked onlookers search for people trapped under rubble after two massive explosions rocked the Lebanese capital, sending plumes of smoke billowing into the air and damaging buildings miles away. (AFP)
Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’
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Emergency fire crews and shocked onlookers search for people trapped under rubble after two massive explosions rocked the Lebanese capital, sending plumes of smoke billowing into the air and damaging buildings miles away. (AFP)
Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’
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Lebanese soldiers carry an injured man to safety following the twin explosions. Beirut’s tearful governor described the capital as ‘a devastated city.’ AFP
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Updated 05 August 2020

Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’

Beirut blast: ‘It was like the apocalypse’
  • Two huge explosions that left more than 70 people dead and thousands injured have added to Lebanon’s grief

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister made a desperate plea for international help after twin explosions devastated Beirut and plunged his country deeper into crisis. 

The two massive blasts killed at least 73 people, injured more than 3,700, and destroyed and damaged buildings across the capital.

While the cause of the blasts remains unclear, Lebanese leader Hassan Diab vowed that those responsible would be punished.

“What happened today will not pass without accountability,” he said in a televised address. “Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price.”

With the country already trapped in a crippling economic crisis and battling COVID-19, Diab appealed for international assistance.

“I am sending an urgent appeal to all countries that are friends and brothers and love Lebanon, to stand by its side and help us treat these deep wounds,” he said.

The explosions took place at a warehouse in the city’s port shortly after 6 p.m.

Lebanon’s internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim said the blasts occurred in a section of the port housing highly explosive materials that had been confiscated and stored there for years.

Diab said that the “dangerous warehouse” had been there since 2014.

Even in a city with a history of conflict, the scale of the explosions was unprecedented. The blasts were so strong the they were felt in Cyprus, 200 km away.

Videos showed an initial explosion and fire, followed by a massive blast and shockwave spreading through the city’s buildings. People could be heard screaming and running for cover in restaurants and from balconies. Many thought they had been hit by an earthquake.


INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS

  • "The Kingdom expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the injured." - Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affair
  • "We stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this horrible tragedy." - Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State
  • "I express my fraternal solidarity with the Lebanese. France stands with Lebanon. Always." - French President Emmanuel Macron (tweeted in Arabic).
  • "The United States stands ready to assist Lebanon. We will be there to help." - US President Donald Trump 
  • "Our prayers are with our Lebanese brothers and sisters." - Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince
  • "My sincere condolences and sympathies to our brothers in Lebanon." - Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
  • "We share the pain of the Lebanese people and reach out to offer our aid." - Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

“It was like a nuclear explosion,” Walid Abdo, a 43-year-old school teacher in the neighborhood of Gemayzeh, told AP.

Bloodied residents poured into the city’s streets as emergency teams rushed to the scene. Ambulances from across the country headed to the capital to help treat the injured.

Buildings across the entire city were damaged, with windows blown out and ceilings collapsed.

By nightfall the injured were flooding the city’s hospitals, with many being seen by medics on the pavements outside.

Health Minister Hassan Hamad said the hospitals were barely coping, and offers of aid were pouring in from Arab states and friends of Lebanon. Lebanese Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said the injured were being taken to hospitals outside the capital because facilities there were full.

As speculation mounted over what had caused the explosions, an Israeli official said his country, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blasts.

The explosions took place just days before a UN tribunal was due to deliver verdicts against four men accused of killing the former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a 2005 bombing that shook the region. The suspects are members of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group that has since increased its role in the country’s government as well as conflicts across the region.

Rafik’s son Saad, also a former prime minister, said the  explosions had left Beirut “crying.”

“Everyone is being called to rescue (the country) and (provide) solidarity with our people,” he said. “The magnitude of the losses is too great to be described”

Prime Minister Diab declared a day of mourning on Wednesday, while President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defence Council, which declared Beirut a disaster-stricken city.

Across Lebanon and among the country’s widespread diaspora, Lebanese were left in shock at the latest tragedy to befall their homeland. Many scrambled to contact relatives and friends.

Lebanese musician Jad Choueiri said the scenes near his home in the Achrafieh neighborhood “looked like the apocalypse.”

He posted an image of his apartment windows blasted across his living room. “I could have died,” he said. “Blood is everywhere on the streets.”

Lebanese journalist Rima Maktabi tearfully described the damage to her home. “My house is gone I think,” she told Al Arabiya, the channel where she works.

Raja Farah, a pastry chef, said he was just half a kilometer from the blasts.

“It is impossible to explain the magnitude of this explosion. I was about as far from the Hariri blast a few years ago, and this was 100 times more powerful,” he said.

Across the city shocked workers and businesses owners poured into the streets.

A video from inside the offices of the Daily Star newspaper showed scenes of devastation, with computers strewn across the floor and ceilings collapsed.

The foyers of the city’s most famous hotels — the Four Seasons and the InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut — were strewn with broken glass.

At the scene of the blast, fire crews battled the blaze into the evening. Helicopters dumped water on flattened buildings as a ship in the port remained on fire.

Beirut’s tearful governor Marwan Abboud toured the site, saying: “Beirut is a devastated city.”

As the scale of the tragedy unfolded, foreign governments, both in the Arab world and beyond, offered their support.

Saudi Arabia said it was following the tragedy with great concern and affirmed the Kingdom’s support and solidarity with the Lebanese people. The UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said: “We pray that God grants you patience and solace. God bless Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

Similar offers of support were sent from Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan. Israel, which is technically still at war with Lebanon, offered medical and humanitarian aid.

The US State Department said it stands ready to offer all possible assistance,” while France’s President Emmanuel Macron called Aoun to tell him French aid had been sent to Lebanon.


Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
Updated 15 April 2021

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
  • There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients
  • Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

DUBAI: Oman has reported on Wednesday a record number of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit as the Sultanate renewed night curfew, daily Times of Oman reported.

There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 264 in ICU, for the first time since the pandemic started, the report said.

Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply, media and three-ton trucks are exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
Updated 54 min 29 sec ago

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
  • Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi
  • Cavusoglu said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers

ISTANBUL: A Turkish delegation will visit Egypt next month as part of Ankara’s efforts to mend ties, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
“Egypt invited a delegation from Turkey. The delegation will go in early May,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the private NTV broadcaster.
“We will discuss openly how to normalize relations.”
Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi, who forged close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That year, both countries expelled each others’ ambassadors and Cairo had then declared the Turkish envoy “persona non grata.”
But Turkish officials last month said Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 as part of wider efforts to repair relations with other Middle Eastern rivals.
Cavusoglu on Thursday said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers, ahead of a contact between the ministers.
“I hope we will all together further improve relations,” he said.


US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
Updated 53 min 41 sec ago

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
  • He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah
  • The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities


DUBAI: The US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said on Thursday they are ready to facilitate a Lebanese-Israeli agreement on the maritime borders.

“These negotiations have the potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon,” Hale said during a press conference at Baabda palace in Lebanon.

The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities.

“(The) Lebanese people are suffering cause the leaders failed to put the interests of the country first,” Hale said.

“Hezbollah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions, they rob the Lebanese the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country,” he added.

He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah.

“It’s Iran that’s fueling and financing this challenge to the state and its distortion of Lebanese political life,” Hale added.

The Under Secretary for Political Affairs also said that those who stand in the way may face punishment.

“Those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda, jeopardize their relationship with the United States and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions,” Hale added.


Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
Updated 8 min 4 sec ago

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
  • Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places

AMMAN: Jordan on Wednesday condemned Israeli police for sabotaging door locks at four Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets in a bid to silence the Muslim call to prayer.

The move came after waqf officials, who oversee Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to turn off loudspeakers on the first day of Ramadan. They said the Israelis had wanted it quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Buraq (Western) wall.

Jordanian officials claimed employees of the Jordan-run Jerusalem waqf and Al-Aqsa affairs department were harassed during the police operation.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, described the Israeli actions as a provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.

He said that Al-Aqsa Mosque was a “pure” Islamic holy site and that the Jerusalem waqf department was “the sole authority” tasked with supervising all of its affairs.

A source at the Jerusalem Waqf Council told Arab News: “This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers. And they pursued waqf officials and staff who refused to carry out their demands.”

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places.

An Israeli siren was sounded in Jerusalem at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as a tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers with that day’s call for isha prayer in the city being at 8:29 p.m.

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the Israeli action had been a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, told Arab News that the incident was an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and represented an attack against Islamic holy places.

“In addition, this is a reflection of a racist policy of the Israeli occupiers that can’t accept anyone who is not Jewish,” he said.

Ahmad Tamimi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, urged international action to put an end to Israeli violations of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.


Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
Updated 15 April 2021

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
  • Kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two friends is latest attack by the Houthis on dissidents

AL-MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis plan to launch a criminal investigation against Entesar Al-Hammadi, a young Yemeni model and actress, who was abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model’s lawyer Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said on Wednesday.

The kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two of her friends is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court will question Entesar on Sunday.

“My client was arrested without a warrant,” Al-Kamal said by telephone, giving no information about the Houthis’ explanation for the abduction.

Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.
 


Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother and pursued her ambition to become a model despite growing up in a conservative society. The 20-year-old first caught the public’s attention after she published images showing off traditional Yemeni costumes and she later appeared on a local television show talking about her dream of becoming an international supermodel.

The Houthis accused the abducted actresses of violating traditional Islamic dress codes.

Their detainment has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.


Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen's minister for information, culture and tourism, said the rebels have launched a “systemic and organized” crackdown on Yemeni women in areas under their control.

“We call on the international community, the UN, the US envoys to Yemen and the women's protection organizations to condemn this crime and pressure the terrorist Houthi militia to immediately release the abductees,” the minister wrote on social media. “They must stop the extortion of women and release all disappeared women from their secret prisons unconditionally.”

Al-Hammadi told a local TV station last year that she wished she could travel abroad to work as a model, citing parental and societal resistance at home.

“It would be great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.

 

 


Social media users have blasted the Houthis for snatching women from the street.

Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni activist, said that the abduction of Al-Hammadi is part of “a dirty” campaign by the rebels against women.

“My solidarity is with my dear Entisar and with all male and female abductees inside the militia’s prisons,” she wrote on Twitter.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis have “brazenly” committed crimes against dissidents and women amid “unexplained” silence of international rights organizations.

“The Houthis have abducted models and female activists and committed flagrant violations of human rights before the eyes and ears of the UN, human rights organizations, and everyone else,” she said.