Beirut blast: Port officials under house arrest as anger grows at Lebanon's elite
The Lebanese government has ordered the house arrest of several Beirut port officials, as investigators probing Tuesday’s massive explosion focused on possible negligence in the storage of tons of a highly explosive fertilizer in a waterfront warehouse.
Rescuers are still searching for survivors after the blast at the capital’s port, which sent shock waves deep into the city, killing at least 135 and injured thousands.
There is mounting anger in Lebanon at the failure of politicians and officials to prevent the disaster.
French President Emmanuel Macron is to visit the country on Thursday. International aid has begun arriving in Beirut after countries across the world, as well as international institutions, pledged help for the Middle Eastern nation, already trapped in a deep economic crisis.
The Lebanese government has said that the explosion was caused by the detonation of ammonium nitrate confiscated from a cargo ship and stored at the port since 2014.
Many want to know why such material was kept for so long, in such an unsafe manner, so close to heavily populated areas.
A lawyers’ report from 2015 referred to the “dangerous” nature of the cargo and said it was being kept in the port “awaiting auction and/or proper disposal”. Yet it remained there until Tuesday’s disastrous consequences unfolded.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has launched an investigation, saying he will seek maximum punishment for those responsible. But many are directing their anger far beyond port officials.
“This is negligence from the ruling elite. An atomic bomb was there for years, and not a single leader or ruler did anything about it,” one male Beirut resident told Dailyrater.
The explosion caused more damage in an instant in Beirut than any previous event, including during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon’s health minister has said that there are probably many more victims buried under the rubble. Whole neighbourhoods were left flattened or uninhabitable due to widespread damage.
Beirut’s governor has estimated that at least a quarter of a million people have been left without a home. Many other residents have been opening their doors to those in distress in a display of solidarity, as a two-week state of emergency was declared in the capital.
Journalist Carol Malouf Khattab in Beirut told Dailyrater that people were getting no help from the government on the ground, fuelling anger at the country’s rulers and a system widely seen as broken.
The disaster has brought further misery to a country which has been gripped by a major banking and economic crisis, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
International relief effort
From Australia to Indonesia to Europe and the United States, countries have been scrambling to send in aid and search teams.
The European Union is activating its civil protection system to round up emergency workers and equipment from across the 27 member states. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands are among those taking part, with more expected to join.
Other countries that are sending help include the UK, Russia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon, has also offered aid.
However, there are calls for donors to bypass Lebanon’s government and work via NGOs to distribute supplies.
Given Lebanon’s fragile state and the political elite’s reputation for corruption and incompetence, there is hesitancy among some backers, including France, to keep propping up a country in dire need of reform.