With brooms and shovels, Lebanese volunteers show the true spirit of Beirut

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Volunteers clean the rubble and broken glass from the streets in downtown Beirut on August 6, 2020 in the aftermath of the massive explosion. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)
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Lebanese citizens walk to the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area on August 6, 2020 to help in the cleanup. (REUTERS/Aziz Taher)
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Lebanese activists take part in a campaign to clean the damaged neighborhood of Mar Mikhael on August 5, 2020. (AFP / PATRICK BAZ)
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Volunteers clean the streets in Beirut's port area on August 5, 2020 following Tuesday's devastating blast. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
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Volunteers and members of the civil society clean the rubble in a street of the damaged trendy Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael on August 6, 2020. (AFP / PATRICK BAZ)
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Volunteers clean the streets in Beirut's port area on August 5, 2020 following Tuesday's devastating blast. (REUTERS/Aziz Taher)
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Volunteers clean debris at Mohammed al-Amin mosque in the center of Beirut on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
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Updated 10 August 2020

With brooms and shovels, Lebanese volunteers show the true spirit of Beirut

  • Young volunteers take to the streets of the capital to clear the damage caused by Tuesday’s explosions
  • Many were automatically motivated to turn up and help out while others were inspired by social media

BEIRUT: Volunteer civilians armed with brooms and shovels flocked to residential areas damaged by the huge explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday evening.

Wearing masks and gloves, they cleaned the debris and glass shards from the inside of homes and the outside of shops.

Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut has turned into a volunteer center. Tents have been built and filled with water bottles, bread and food items donated to be distributed to displaced people.

Young women have bought their own brooms and received gloves from the Beirut municipality to protect them from wounds that can be caused by glass fragments.

Lebanese citizens walk to the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area on August 6, 2020 to help in the cleanup. (REUTERS/Aziz Taher)

Other volunteers have come without any protective gear but are holding shovels to remove the rubble and stating that they are not afraid of injury.

Social-media platforms have been behind some people’s enthusiasm to get involved while others have felt spontaneously motivated to turn up and help out.

Ziad Haidar, of the Lebanese Spotlight organization, said: “Similarly to other volunteers, we are school students between the ages of 16 and 18. We participate in cleaning beaches usually, but today people need our help. All we see is destruction, especially in downtown Beirut, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael.”

Volunteers clean the streets in Beirut's port area on August 5, 2020 following Tuesday's devastating blast. (REUTERS/Aziz Taher)

Ghida, another volunteer, said: “We are college students from Beirut who gathered, went to the Beirut municipality and received gloves. We bought brooms at our own expense. Most affected people are poor and unable to fix anything broken,” 

Jad, 22, and Anas, 21, students at the American University of Beirut (AUB), went to Gemmayze to help. They said that they were not members of any organization but felt the need to take action and not just be bystanders.

“I started helping at my parents’ house, then at the homes of my neighbors,” Anas told Arab News. “We live relatively far from the explosion site but we were affected by the damage. In my neighborhood, I used my car to transport injured people to the hospital.

“The only logical thing I could think of was to offer help. People told me about how they had lost a sister or a daughter, and how some people are still lost and not found in hospitals. That truly affected me.”

Volunteers clean the streets in Beirut's port area on August 5, 2020 following Tuesday's devastating blast. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Jad said that he had been trying to emigrate but changed his mind and decided to stay in the country after the explosion at Beirut’s port. “We have not witnessed any wars, and when the 2006 aggression happened, we were kids,” he told Arab News.

“My parents lived through many wars, and yesterday they were shivering and counting on me to rescue them after the explosion. That affected me a lot.”

Jad added: “I turn to them to care for me usually, but yesterday it was the other way around. I used to hear war stories from my grandfather and father, but today I am living that experience, not knowing whether I will ever be able to tell my children about it.

“My grandfather had told me that war is over and behind us, but today it looks like we are heading toward it once again. Where is the happy ending? I do not want to tell my children that we left Lebanon because it became unlivable.”

Sabil spoke on behalf of a group of young women who came from Tripoli. “We are from the Humanities and Social Science Organization. We normally help people in Tripoli, but this is our capital, Beirut, and it is our duty to help it in its disaster,” he told Arab News.

“We know the beautiful buildings in Beirut but they are destroyed today, and people need us. Our parents have accompanied us to Beirut to donate blood in hospitals.

“We worked on removing debris from inside a lot of homes that were left without any furniture, and people are unable to compensate for their losses but if we, young people, continue our volunteer work, we might rebuild the walls that were destroyed. We want to give people hope.”

Nayla Mouawad, a volunteer college student, said: “My female friends and I wore masks and decided to take to the streets. People need us and we must help each other.”

Yvon Azar said: “The streets are crowded because people are coming to Beirut to help. This is humanitarian work we should be proud of.”

Lebanese activists take part in a campaign to clean the damaged neighborhood of Mar Mikhael on August 5, 2020. (AFP / PATRICK BAZ)

Scenes showing young people’s enthusiasm to help were preceded by stories about young men and women who turned into heroes on social media platforms.

Sahar Fares, 25, was the first female paramedic from the Beirut Fire Brigade who was motivated to help her friends put out the fire at the port that led to the huge explosion that happened seconds afterwards. Her body was later found and she was buried on Thursday, amid applause for her patriotism and humanity.

Eight of Sahar’s colleagues are still missing, according to fire brigade commander Nabil Khankarly.

The Order of Nurses mourned five of their colleagues who died in Beirut’s port explosion on Tuesday in the line of duty at hospitals and centers that were destroyed by the blast. The nurses were: Lina Abou Hamdan, Jessy Kahwaji Daoud, Jessica Bazdarjian, Mireille Jermanos and Jacqueline Jibrin.

Meanwhile, people on social media platforms shared a photo of nurse Pamela Zeinoun holding three newborns and trying to keep them warm after the Al-Roum Hospital where she works was extensively damaged.


Twitter:  @najiahoussari


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.