Exhausted rescue workers soldier on at Beirut port

Exhausted rescue workers soldier on at Beirut port
Smoke rises at the site of a fire that broke out at Beirut's port yesterday, Lebanon September 11, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 12 September 2020

Exhausted rescue workers soldier on at Beirut port

Exhausted rescue workers soldier on at Beirut port
  • Port of Beirut under military control since Aug. 4 explosion that devastated the country
  • Port under army control since Aug. 4 blast

BEIRUT: Firefighters and civil defense workers were continuing their efforts on Friday to cool down a site at the Port of Beirut where a fire had broken out a day earlier, with white smoke billowing out and agencies estimating $4 million worth of losses as a result of the incident.

According to the army, the fire broke out in a warehouse containing tires and oil. The fire was due to the cutting of iron columns that had collapsed after a massive explosion on Aug. 4. Warehouse workers had wanted to remove the columns in order to pull out the goods trapped underneath. However sparks from the cutting fell on inflammable goods in the warehouse and caused a fire.

The military police, who are in charge of investigating the fire, have questioned 20 people including eyewitnesses.

The port has been under army control since Aug. 4, when the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse destroyed wheat silos, the port’s warehouse zone, Beirut waterfront and neighboring areas.

The explosion killed 192 civilians including children, in addition to 10 rescue workers and firefighters. It injured 6,000 civilians and displaced 300,000 people whose houses were either totally or partially destroyed. According to testimonies, nine people are still missing.

Col. Roger Khoury, who is commander of the army’s Engineering Regiment, said during a meeting with President Michel Aoun that 24 bodies had been retrieved from the site eight days after the Aug. 4 tragedy, including the bodies of nine firefighters and nine silo workers.

“During the search operation in the port we discovered 4,350 kilos of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse since 2004 or 2005, so they were destroyed in special fields. In addition, we discovered that there were warehouses which have been storing inflammable materials for the past 15 years, noting that 143 warehouses containing inflammable materials were checked,” he added.

FASTFACT

The explosion killed 192 civilians including children, in addition to 10 rescue workers and firefighters. It injured 6,000 civilians and displaced 300,000 people whose houses were either totally or partially destroyed.

Col. Youssef Haidar said that 1 million square meters of the port’s 1.4 million square meter area had been cleared, 15,000 tons of rubble had been removed and 20 tons of cargo had been sorted.

The port’s two disasters have been mainly handled by the fire services and civil defense.

Georges Abou Moussa, head of operations at Lebanese Civil Defense, said there were huge pressures on the team.

He went to Qartaba, northern Lebanon, to fight forest fires caused by unusually high temperatures. “We are working round the clock,” he told Arab News. “I had to move from the Port of Beirut to a region 2,000 meters high up in the mountains to fight forest fires. Yes, we are exhausted but we did not lose our enthusiasm, this is our duty and we are used to always confronting disasters. However, the number of these disasters has drastically increased lately.”

Abou Moussa said that some civil defense employees were working without pay, while others were getting minimum wage.

Lt. Michel Murr, from Beirut Fire Brigade, said that firefighters had been working at the port for 24 hours.

“Our conditions are lamentable,” he told Arab News. “Our vehicles are overused and have started to break down. Yesterday the water pump broke down yet we continued fighting the fire and called on anyone who had a water tank to bring it over so that we could extinguish the fire.”

The fire brigade had just three vehicles and if they broke down then operations would come to a halt, he said.

“According to the international firefighting system, the vehicles should be replaced every three or four years. In Lebanon we never replace them with brand new ones because the state has no money. We are working with minimal resources and we still rush into the field whenever we hear of a fire breaking out somewhere. Firefighters did not lose hope despite losing some of our colleagues who got killed in action. Yesterday, our aim was to spare Beirut from the fire and pollution resulting from burning tires and oil. Our equipment consists of the bare essentials, in spite of this we work with high professionalism to spare ourselves from human and material losses.”


UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
Updated 16 min 22 sec ago

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
  • The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday
  • The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters

TRIPOLI: The advance team of a UN observer mission has arrived in Libya, which after a decade of conflict and chaos plans to hold elections in December, informed sources said Wednesday.
The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, they said, to monitor a cease-fire between the country’s two rival armed factions.
The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters who have been deployed in the oil-rich North African country and have so far shown no sign of leaving.
Libya was thrown into years of violent turmoil after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and led to the killing of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The country has been split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital and backed by Turkey, and an administration in the east supported by strongman Kalifa Haftar, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The two sides reached a cease-fire in October, and UN-led talks since resulted in a new temporary administration elected in February, led by interim prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
A diplomatic source in Tunis said the advance team, made up from the UN mission in Libya and experts from UN headquarters in New York, arrived Tuesday via the neighboring country’s capital Tunis.
On its five-week mission it is to travel to Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast halfway between the eastern and western power centers, as well as to Misrata in the west and Benghazi in the east.
A diplomatic source in New York said the team is due to submit a report to the UN Security Council on March 19 on the cease-fire and the departure of foreign troops.
According to the UN, some 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters were still in Libya in early December. A January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any signs of them pulling out.
The Security Council in early February ordered UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deploy the vanguard of observers in Libya, following the October 23 cease-fire deal.
In a report late last year, Guterres himself had advocated an unarmed observer group be made up of civilians and retired military personnel from African Union, European Union and Arab League member states.


Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow
Updated 30 min 59 sec ago

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

ANKARA: Turkey and Egypt could negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement in the eastern Mediterranean if their ties, which have been strained, allow for such a move, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Last month, Egypt announced the start of a bid round for oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation in 24 blocks including some in the Mediterranean.
Speaking at a news conference with his Georgian counterpart in Ankara, Cavusoglu said Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf and that Ankara viewed this positively. 


UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 49 min 3 sec ago

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
  • The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463

DUBAI: The UAE confirmed 2,692 new coronavirus cases and 16 deaths on Wednesday as the Emirates continues to expand its testing of citizens and residents for the early detection of the highly contagious disease.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463, with a total of 1,269 fatalities related to coronavirus.

Health officials have conducted 218,351 additional COVID-19 tests overnight, state news agency WAM said, with the total number of tests now over 31 million.

The UAE leads the world in terms of conducting coronavirus tests relative to the size of population, with infection rates compared to the total tests being among the lowest in the region and the entire world, WAM earlier said.

It is also tops the global tally on COVID-19 vaccinations after implementing a vaccination campaign to for residents and citizens to achieve mass immunity. More than six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been provided and 3,614,070 people have been vaccinated to date, which accounts for 46.61 percent of the target population.


Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges
Updated 3 min 21 sec ago

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

Egyptian FM: Arabs need to unite in face of challenges

DUBAI: Egypt’s foreign minister called for the unified Arab front to face current issues and challenges during a ministerial meeting of the Arab League.
Sameh Shoukry called for the halt of foreign interference in Libya and expressed support for a political solution.
He also said “we fully support Saudi Arabia’s efforts in defending themselves from the Houthi militia.”
As for Syria, the Egyptian top envoy called for unity in the face of Turkish “occupation.”
Shoukry also said Arab ministers support Sudan’s and Egypt’s stances on the Grand Renaissance Dam issue.
“We seek an agreement that will preserve our rights without violating those of Ethiopia,” he said.


Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack
Updated 03 March 2021

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Wednesday he still expected to make his historic visit to Iraq in two days time, after a rocket attack on a military base hosting US-led coalition troops.
"The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much," the 84-year-old Francis said in his weekly Wednesday address.
The Argentine pontiff asked for prayers for the trip, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, through which he hopes to encourage the dwindling Christian community to remain in their ancient homeland while broadening his outreach to Islam.
"I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers so that it may take place in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits," the pope said.
He added: "The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they were waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful."
At least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops earlier on Wednesday, security sources said, leaving one civilian contractor dead.
The attack on the sprawling Ain al-Assad base in Iraq's western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Francis said the pope would be travelling by armoured vehicle and that he would not be meeting crowds.
"This is a particular situation, that's why the transports will all be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be complicated to see the pope on the streets," spokesman Matteo Brunei said.
"There will be a number of meetings but none will be more than a few hundred people," he said.