At least 100 killed, 4,000 injured as massive explosions rip through Beirut

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A helicopter try to put out multiple fires at the scene of the massive explosion that hit Beirut's port on Aug. 4, 2020 in the heart of the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
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Smoke rises from the site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. (Reuters)
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Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut. (Reuters)
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A wounded man is checked by a fireman near the scene of an explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Smoke rises after an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. (Reuters)
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An injured man is transported on a stretcher following an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 August 2020

At least 100 killed, 4,000 injured as massive explosions rip through Beirut

  • Death toll rises as search continues for survivors
  • Nightmare scene ‘was like a nuclear bomb’

BEIRUT: More than 100 people were killed and thousands were injured on Tuesday when a massive explosion ripped through the port area of Beirut.

The initial death toll was reported as approximately 73, but on Wednesday morning the Lebanese Red Cross said the number of those killed now stood at in excess of 100. 

In a short televised speech Prime Minister Hassan Diab appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation, saying: “We are witnessing a real catastrophe.”

He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price, without commenting on the cause.

Footage shared by the Lebanese army on Wednesday showed the devastation at the ground zero of yesterday's blast.

When the blast happened windows shattered throughout the Lebanese capital and balconies were blown off apartment buildings as a giant plume of smoke soared into the air in nightmare scenes that witnesses said reminded of them of a nuclear bomb blast.

“What happened is like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions. Nothing remains,” Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said after inspecting the the scene of the explosion.

The city’s hospitals were overwhelmed with injured victims, and the death toll was expected to rise overnight as the full scale of the disaster became apparent.

It began at about 6 p.m. with a fire at a warehouse in the port, a few small explosions as if from firecrackers, and then one giant blast that sent shockwaves throughout the city and was heard as far away as Cyprus in the Mediterranean.

A plume of white smoke turned pink, and then red, and fires burned for hours.

Among the worst-hit buildings was the HQ of the state power company, EDL, immediately opposite the port. Dozens of staff were injured, including the company’s general manager Kamal Hayek.

The blast happened during a meeting of the Lebanese Phalange Party in Al-Saifi, near the port, and Kataeb Party secretary general Nizar Najarian was killed.

Shocked residents poured into the streets from their homes, with many hurt by flying glass and broken doors and furniture. Some walked to the nearest pharmacy, while the more seriously injured were ferried to hospital by car and motorcycle.

Soldiers tried to clear the streets of dazed civilians, some of them drenched from head to toe in their own blood. Volunteers led survivors away to seek medical help, using their shirts as bandages.

Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired teacher who has lived near the port for decades, said it was “like an atomic bomb.”
“I’ve experienced everything, but nothing like this before," even during the 1975-1990 civil war, she said. “All the buildings around here have collapsed. I’m walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark.”
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said. “It appears that there is a warehouse containing material that was confiscated years ago, and it appears that it was highly explosive.” Experts said the plume of red smoke suggested the material was probably ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertiliser.

Lebanese firefighters work at the scene of an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. (AFP)

Messages of support and offers of help poured into Lebanon after the blast. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the Kingdom expressed “its deepest condolences to the victims of the Beirut explosion.”

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Wednesday a day of mourning, and said those responsible for the explosion would pay the price. “I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,” he said.

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

Updated 30 October 2020

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

  • Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared

DUBAI: Top officials in Iran say the upcoming US election doesn’t matter, but nearly everyone else there seems to be holding their breath.
The race for the White House could mean another four years of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Or it could bring Joe Biden, who has raised the possibility of the US returning to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
In the upper levels of Iran’s Islamic republic, overseen by 81-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, anti-Americanism is as deeply entrenched as at any time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with presidents from both parties seen as equally repugnant.
“America has a deep-rooted enmity against the Iranian nation and whether Trump is elected or Biden, it will not have any impact on the US main policy to strike the Iranian nation,” parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf said in September, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
But noticeably, Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared. State-run radio rebroadcast a BBC Farsi-language service simulcast of the presidential debates live — even as Iran continues to target journalists for the British broadcaster.
That interest allegedly includes Iran’s security apparatus as well. US officials accuse the Islamic republic of sending emails to voters seeking to intimidate them into voting for Trump. It may have been an attempt to link the president to apparent election interference in order to sow chaos, like Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election. Tehran denies being involved.
The Iranian public is paying attention. The state-owned polling center ISPA said this month that 55 percent of people believe the outcome of the election will affect Iran “a lot.” Over half expected Trump would win, while a fifth said Biden. ISPA said it surveyed over 1,600 people by telephone, and did not provide a margin of error.
Trump’s reelection would mean the extension of his pressure campaign, including sanctions on Khamenei and other senior officials. Some of the sanctions are largely symbolic — Khamenei has only once traveled to America and does not hold any US bank accounts — but others have devastated the economy and sent the local currency into freefall. As a hedge, Iranians have poured money into foreign currency, real estate, precious metals and the stock market — which hit a record high in August.
Trump on the campaign trail has hit on that and his decision to launch a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January — a move that led Tehran to launch a retaliatory ballistic missile strike, wounding dozens of American troops.
To cheers, Trump has described the general, Qassem Soleimani, as “the world’s No. 1 terrorist,” likely due to him being blamed for the improvised explosive devices that maimed US troops in Iraq and for supporting Syria’s Bashar Assad. Many Iranians revered Solemani for fighting against Daesh and in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and millions flooded the streets for his funeral processions.
“The first call I get when we win will be from the head of Iran, let’s make a deal. Their economy is crashing,” Trump told a campaign rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Monday. “They will call and I want them to do well, but they cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Biden has left open the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have remained committed to the agreement and allowed a UN arms embargo to expire as part of the deal, despite a White House push to keep it in place.
After Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored crippling sanctions, Iran began publicly abandoning the agreement’s limits on enrichment. It now has at least 2.32 tons of low-enriched uranium, according to a September report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Experts typically say 1.15 tons of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched for one nuclear weapon.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and still allows IAEA inspectors to monitor its atomic sites. But experts say the “breakout time” needed for Iran to build one nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so has dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months.
Iran in the past also has threatened to abandon a nuclear nonproliferation treaty or expel international inspectors. It recently began construction at an underground nuclear site, likely building a new centrifuge assembly plant after a reported sabotage attack there earlier this year.
“’America First’ has made America alone,” Biden said at a televised ABC town hall this month, playing on a longtime Trump slogan. “You have Iran closer to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb.”
What a return to the deal means, however, is in question. Biden’s campaign website says he would use “hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it.” One criticism of the accord was its narrow focus on the nuclear program, despite concerns by the US, Israel and its Gulf Arab allies over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its presence in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Iran maintains that its ballistic missile program is vital for deterring potential attacks and non-negotiable. It is also unlikely to cease its military activities in Syria and Iraq, where it spent considerable blood and treasure in the war against Daesh.
But ensuring the survival of the Islamic republic, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, may require the same flexibility that saw Iran agree to negotiations with the US in the first place. Iran will hold a presidential election in June, but any decision to re-engage with Washington would have to be made by the supreme leader.
“Khamenei’s revolutionary path actually leads to America — that is, by seeking a stable, safe, and meticulously measured relationship with the United States, he believes he can guarantee the survival of both the regime and its revolutionary content and orientation,” wrote Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian who is an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Tehran’s objective is therefore a scandalous paradox: Deal with America to remain anti-American.”