Deadly Beirut blast could have been missile attack or bomb, says Lebanese president

A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2020

Deadly Beirut blast could have been missile attack or bomb, says Lebanese president

  • Michel Aoun: ‘The incident might be a result of negligence or external intervention through a missile or a bomb’
  • He said Macron was ‘outraged’ by what happened, investigation would target all directly responsible

BEIRUT: A devastating explosion that destroyed much of Beirut might have been the result of a missile attack or bomb, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said, as the death toll from the blast rose to 154.

More than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been sitting in a port warehouse for six years, but there have been conflicting accounts about why Lebanese authorities decided to empty the shipment of explosive material. The vessel carrying the flammable cargo was heading from Georgia to Mozambique when it stopped in the Lebanese port to load up on iron, according to the ship’s captain.

By Friday, 19 suspects had been arrested and Lebanon’s former director general of customs Chafic Merhy had been questioned by military police.

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: “The incident might be a result of negligence or external intervention through a missile or a bomb, and I have asked French President Emmanuel Macron to provide us with aerial photos to determine whether there were planes or missiles, and if the French did not have such photos then we might seek them from other states to determine if there was a foreign assault,” said Aoun, referring to a flying visit from the French leader to Lebanon after the tragedy occurred.

The president said that Macron was “outraged” by what had happened and that the investigation would target all those who were directly responsible. Lebanon’s courts would try all officials regardless of their ranking, Aoun added.

The president told journalists that there was a lot of interest about how the explosive materials were emptied in the port, who was responsible for keeping them stored there for six years and whether the blast was an accident or deliberate.

Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the number of the injured people had risen to 5,000 according to hospital records and that 20 percent needed hospitalization, while 120 were in critical condition. The number of injured could be much higher, especially since hundreds of people went to pharmacies, dispensaries, or private clinics for treatment and nobody registered their names.

A search is still underway for eight missing silo employees: Ghassan Hasrouty, Joe Andoun, Shawki Alloush, Hassan Bachir, Khalil Issa, Charbel Karam, Charbel Hitti, and Najib Hitti. French rescue teams were able to locate six of them through scanners inside the elevator under the silos building.

Civil Defense and rescue teams found the body of Joe Akiki on Thursday midnight in one of the silo cellars. The bodies of Ali Mcheik and Ibrahim Al-Amin, two silo workers, have also been found. 

But the possibility of finding survivors looked slim on Friday, according to a military source, despite the fact that Russian and French rescue teams detected signals from a mobile phone belonging to one of the missing individuals. 

Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun inspected the local and foreign search and rescue teams in the Port of Beirut, which has been declared a restricted area. Residents reported thefts in damaged households and shops during the evenings, especially since the damaged areas have lost power. 

Mireille Girard, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Lebanon, said the agency had decided to put its stocks of shelter equipment, plastic sheets, emergency tents and tens of thousands of other basic relief items at people’s disposal.

“More than 300,000 people have had their residence fully or partially damaged due to the explosion, which caused them to get displaced,” she added.

Volunteers are continuing to clear out damaged homes, businesses and places of worship, removing huge quantities of broken glass, as international aid began arriving in Lebanon.

Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council have provided hospitals with medical supplies, given the homeless food and subsistence aid, and set up field hospitals in affected areas and in the capital’s downtown area.

UNICEF said that 100,000 Lebanese children have lost their homes due to the explosion in the Port of Beirut, and that 120 schools serving 55,000 children were damaged.

Patriarch John X Yazigi, who is primate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East, moved from his headquarters in Syria to Lebanon and inspected hospitals and the patriarchate’s other institutions. 

The US is donating more than $17 million in aid to Lebanon, in addition to financial assistance to the Lebanese Red Cross, while the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will provide tents, beds, blankets, and other aid through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The UK said that HMS Enterprise would sail to Lebanon to assess the damage in the Port of Beirut  and help restore normal port operations, along with immediate military and civilian aid worth more than £5 million ($6.5 million).

Lebanese Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said: “Lebanon is in a state of emergency and there is no cover for anyone, and the judiciary does not need permission to sue anyone.” 


How a newborn was taken from Lebanese mother and lost in Istanbul hospital

Updated 20 September 2020

How a newborn was taken from Lebanese mother and lost in Istanbul hospital

  • Distraught mother demands answers after baby boy disappears in Istanbul hospital
  • A woman who was giving birth in the next room told the couple the baby was still alive when hospital administration said he was dead

BEIRUT: It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – a newborn baby taken from his mother’s arms and lost, and yet that’s what happened to a young Lebanese couple moments after the birth of their son in an Istanbul hospital.

Mohammed Salim, 27, and Jana Al-Qawzi, 23, had just welcomed their newborn baby boy into the world when staff took him from his mother’s arms – he has not been seen since.

Four months ago the couple had moved to Turkey in the hope of a new and better life, but instead are now in a desperate search for answers over the disappearance of their son.
They say the hospital authorities have failed to give them a convincing explanation of the fate of their baby, who was taken from his mother’s arms moments after being born and vanished.
Jana’s mother, Nada Al-Qawzi, who works at the American University of Beirut, said “her daughter is devastated and inconsolable.”
She told Arab News: “Jana wanted to offer her unborn child a shot at a better life, so she decided to leave Lebanon, knowing that Mohammed owned a hardware store and Jana was an employee at a private hospital in Beirut.
“In Istanbul, they both found work and her pregnancy was normal. However, in the sixth month of pregnancy, doctors told my daughter that the baby’s heartbeats were slowing. A month later, Jana complained of abdominal pain and her doctor told her she should give birth immediately.
“That is when Jana and Mohammed’s tragedy began.”

Jana said that she cannot escape the nightmare she has been living in since July.
“My tears have dried, but I am on painkillers,” she said.
The couple’s residence permit in Turkey has expired, but Jana is refusing to leave without knowing the fate of her newborn in the Okmeydani hospital in Istanbul.
As a non-Turkish citizen, Jana had to pay the hospital 4,000 Turkish liras ($528) on July 5. But when she checked with the local authorities, they made the hospital admit her for free.
In the hospital, Jana was left alone in the delivery room after labor was induced. Her husband was not allowed to stay with her because other women were giving birth nearby.
Jana’s mother said that when her daughter gave birth, she was shocked that the baby was “so little and kind of blue-ish.”
As soon as he heard Jana’s screams, a doctor came and took the newborn away. Jana was not allowed to use her phone to take pictures of the infant.
Moments later, medical staff came back to tell her that the baby had died. Jana called Mohammed, who was waiting outside, and said she heard him wailing.
Ever since that moment, she said, the couple’s life had become hell.
The couple still do not know the fate of their newborn. A woman who was giving birth in the next room told Jana that her baby was still alive, while the hospital administration told Jana that he was dead.
When the couple asked for the baby’s body to be returned, they were given contradictory answers. No trace of the newborn was found in the hospital’s records and the only name found was Jana’s.
One doctor wrote down in a medical report that the baby was born alive but died after being placed in intensive care, while another claimed that the baby died during birth and the body removed by a nurse.
The couple hired a lawyer and Jana’s mother asked a human rights organization in Beirut to investigate and provide psychological help for her daughter.
Turkish authorities also launched an investigation, but that was very slow, according to the lawyer, who advised the couple to go to the Turkish media to raise the issue.
Jana’s mother said the Lebanese embassy in Turkey contacted the couple and Turkish authorities. It told the couple that investigations have been extended to three nurses and that the manager of the hospital morgue “went off the grid after shutting down his cell phone.”
Two months after the incident, Jana is yet to discover the fate of her baby, while local authorities are pressuring Jana and her husband to leave the country.
However, the couple say they will stay on, even if it is illegal, until they know the truth.
Mohammed has lost his job and, according to Jana’s mother, Jana is working as a babysitter, hoping to get a new residence permit.
“They want to know the truth before coming back to Lebanon,” she said.
The couple have named their lost son Mohammed.
Jana’s mother said: “We want this case to reach the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We have documents, but they are inconsistent with the course of the incidents. My daughter has made peace with the death of her newborn, but she will not rest without knowing his fate.”
Many theories have been put forward about the incident, but Jana refuses to believe any of the claims.
Is it possible that the baby was used for the illegal trade in human organs? More than 1,500 babies are believed to have disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Turkey.
“I do not want to think about this possibility because it is killing me,” said Jana.  
Lebanese lawyer Paul Morcos has raised questions about the Turkish hospital’s handling of the case, asking why it refused to receive fees from the couple or give them hospital bills.
He has also highlighted the hospital’s contradictory information and the “disappearance” of the person in charge of the morgue.
“We want to know what happened, and we want to retrieve the body to be able to exclude the possibility of an organized crime,” he said.