BEIRUT/JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of an international relief effort to help victims of the deadly Beirut port blast after sending two aircraft carrying 120 tons of medical and emergency supplies to the devastated city.
The planes left King Khalid International Airport early on Friday accompanied by a specialist team from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), which will supervise distribution of the aid.
Countries around the world have rushed to help Lebanon in the wake of the port explosion on Aug. 4 that killed up to 150 people, injured 5,000 and left thousands homeless.
The twin blasts devastated large areas of the Lebanese capital and destroyed vital infrastructure, including grain storage silos and port facilities.
Lebanon, already reeling from an economic and currency collapse, now faces the threat of food shortages and a major hit to exports and imports.
The explosions have left Lebanon’s people in despair, with one man telling world media this week that “Beirut is broken.”
Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, adviser to the Royal Court and supervisor-general of KSRelief, said that the emergency air bridge launched on Friday follows a directive from King Salman to provide urgent medical and humanitarian assistance to help the Lebanese overcome the effects of the port explosion.
Al-Rabeeah said that the directive “embodies the established humanitarian values of the Saudi leadership and highlights the pivotal role of the Kingdom in providing humanitarian assistance to all people in need around the world.”
Dr. Samer Al-Jetaily, investments and resources director at KSRelief, told Arab News the center “has started the campaign to relieve our brothers in Lebanon.”
Pointing to the aid cargo being loaded on the plane, he said: “This campaign will concentrate on three sectors and this cargo is an air bridge which will continue for three to four days.”
The first sector is health, with a focus on those injured by the explosion and now receiving hospital treatment.
The second will focus on providing shelter for people who lost their homes, while the third will help with food security for up to four days, according to the needs of the Lebanese people.
“Parallel to this, there will be a rapid assessment on the ground from a team accompanying this cargo, and there will be a meticulous plan to help the people affected by this sad and tragic event,” Al-Jetaily said.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Waleed Bukhari, and the Lebanese Minister of Interior, Mohammed Fahmi, welcomed the aid arrival at Beirut airport.
“It’s our patriotic and humanitarian duty, and this is the Kingdom’s message,” the ambassador said.
“The incident that hit Lebanon deserves our attention as per the directives from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Our message is consolidated through the support and providing aid to all humanitarian issues and needs, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world.”
He said: “Teams have been working non-stop for the first 48 hours to assess the damage and people’s needs.
“Organizations and ambulance teams affiliated with KSRelief were some of the first on the ground in the early hours after the incident to assist the Lebanese medical staff in treating those affected by the explosion.”
Saudi aid and assistance have made a big impact on Lebanon’s people, the envoy said.
The ambassador said that special committees will oversee and review reports on Lebanese people’s needs.
"Aid will continue to flow into Lebanon after assessing the required needs for the Lebanese people in cooperation with the relevant authorities in Lebanon," the ambassador told Arab News.
"An additional assessment report will be sent later on. We aim to send 700 tons of food items, medicines and equipment and shelters."
Saudi Arabia’s Embassy is working to follow up on the delivery of aid to the Lebanese people.
The Kingdom and Lebanon have longstanding relations, Fahmi told Arab News.
“We feel as if we are one nation in two countries. Saudi Arabia and King Salman have not neglected Lebanon for a single day,” he said.
The minister described the explosion that hit the Lebanese capital as a tragedy, but said “we are very optimistic about what will happen in the future.”
Former Lebanese justice minister Ashraf Rifi said he wanted to thank Saudi Arabia and its leadership “on behalf of the Lebanese people.”
“Thank you for all your support, for taking care of our children and our current interests,” he said.
However, Rifi said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel. I assure you Lebanon is very close to becoming finally free.”
Through KSRelief efforts, more than 30 projects have been launched in Lebanon since 2006 at a cost of over $27.6 million. The projects focus on areas including food security, health, camp coordination, protection and charitable assistance.
Historically, the Kingdom is a major backer of Lebanon, contributing to its tourism industry and economic growth.
After the 2006 war, Saudi Arabia donated 4,984 tons of aid and a field hospital to treat victims, as well as rebuild 208 villages.
The humanitarian medical assistance followed a foreign aid package for the country that included a $500 million grant that formed the nucleus of an Arab and international fund for the reconstruction of Lebanon.
Residents in the Kingdom can help Lebanon through the KSRelief website. Over $1.2 million has been donated so far by private citizens.