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Beirut explosion death toll rises to 135 as 5,000 wounded: Live

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Lebanon’s cabinet declared a two-week state of emergency in the capital city and handed control of security in the capital to the military following a massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 people and injured 5,000 others.

The explosion on Tuesday sent shockwaves across the city, causing widespread damage as far as the outskirts of Beirut.

Officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through the rubble to search for survivors.

Beirut’s city governor Marwan Abboud said up to 300,000 people have lost their homes and authorities are working on providing them with food, water and shelter.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. Officials linked the blast to some 2,750 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate that were being stored in a warehouse at the port for six years.

INTERACTIVE: Beirut explosion map

Here are the latest updates:

For Thursday, August 6 updates, click here.

Wednesday, August 5

23:11 GMT – 10 of 11 missing Filipino seafarers near Beirut blast site found safe

The Philippine embassy in Lebanon has reported that 10 of the 11 seafarers, who were intially reported missing following the massive blast in Beirut, have been found.

According to a statement from the Philippine government, the seafarers suffered minor injuries and are now being looked after their shipping company. One seafarer remains missing.

Earlier, the Philippine government reported at least two Filipino workers were killed and six others injured in the explosion.

20:50 GMT – World Bank says ready to mobilise financing for Lebanon blast recovery

The World Bank Group said it stands ready to assess Lebanon’s damage and needs after a devastating Beirut port explosion and work with the country’s partners to mobilise public and private financing for reconstruction and recovery.

The World Bank said in a statement that it “would be also willing to reprogram existing resources and explore additional financing to support rebuilding lives and livelihoods of people impacted by this disaster.” 

20:15 GMT – Support for hospitals and trauma response is a top priority: UN

The United Nations is working closely with the authorities in Lebanon to support ongoing response in the aftermath of the massive explosion, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.

“The World Health Organization is working closely with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to conduct an assessment of hospital facilities in Beirut, their functionality and needs for additional support, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic”, he said.

“Specialists are being dispatched to Beirut at the moment to assist in the emergency response, both from the United Nations and multiple Member States. Experts are en route to support urban search and rescue operations. Teams are also equipped to conduct rapid assessments about the situation on the ground and help coordinate emergency response activities.”

Protective gloves are scattered on the ground at a damaged hospital following Tuesday's blast in Beirut, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Protective gloves are scattered on the ground at a damaged hospital following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut, Lebanon [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

19:12 GMT – Baghdad will provide fuel aid to Beirut

An Iraqi delegation headed by the Iraqi oil minister met the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and informed him that Baghdad will provide fuel aid to Beirut, according to a statement by the Lebanese government.

Lebanese local media also said that an amount of wheat will arrive on Friday from Iraq as an aid after the blast left the Lebanese capital short on wheat, according to the governor.

18:10 GMT – Explosion must be independently investigated: Amnesty International

Amnesty International called for an independent into Beirut’s deadly blast and urged the international community to increase humanitarian aid at this time.

Julie Verhaar, acting secretary-general of the UK-based rights group, said, “Whatever may have caused the explosion, including the possibility of a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely, Amnesty International is calling for an international mechanism to be promptly set up to investigate how this happened.

“Amnesty International also calls on the international community to urgently increase humanitarian aid to Lebanon at a time when the country was already struggling with the severe economic crisis, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A general view shows the damage at the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A general view shows the damage at the site of Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

18:01 GMT – Beirut collective losses after blast may reach $15bn: governor 

Beirut’s governor told Al Hadath TV that collective losses after Beirut’s blast may reach $10bn to $15bn, with the governor explaining the number includes both direct and indirect losses related to business.

The governor also said that amounts of available wheat are currently limited and he thinks a crisis might take place without international interference.

16:56 GMT – Pompeo in call with Lebanese PM reaffirms US commitment to assist

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a call with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab reiterated “steadfast” commitment to assist the Lebanese people, the State Department said.

He “further stressed our solidarity with and support for the Lebanese people as they strive for the dignity, prosperity and security they deserve.”

16:38 GMT – UK to provide five million pounds of aid to Beirut: Raab 

Britain will provide a five million pound ($6.6m) aid package to Beirut, including search and rescue help and expert medical support, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

“We are going to stand by the Lebanese people in their time of need; we are going to provide immediate response and an aid package – an assistance package – search and rescue, humanitarian assistance up to 5 million pounds, as well as expert medical support,” he said. 

A man pushes his belongings along a street as he evacuates his damaged house, following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

A man pushes his belongings along a street as he evacuates his damaged house, following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

16:37 GMT – Lebanon Tribunal postpones verdict in Hariri case to August 18

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said it would postpone its verdict in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri to August 18, following the huge explosion in Beirut’s port.

The verdict in the trial of the four men who stand accused over the 2005 Beirut bombing was scheduled for this Friday, August 7.

16:07 GMT – Beirut blast toll rises to 135 killed, 5,000 injured, health minister says

The death toll from the massive explosion in Beirut has risen to 135, with some 5,000 wounded and tens still missing, Lebanon’s health minister told Al Manar television. 

People wearing face masks move a gurney at a damaged hospital following Tuesday's blast in Beirut, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

People wearing face masks move a gurney at a damaged hospital following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut, Lebanon [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

15:54 GMT – Bolsonaro says Brazil will send help to Lebanon

“Brazil is going to do more than a gesture, something concrete, to assist, in part, those tens of thousands of people who are in a very tough situation,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said at the end of a ministerial ceremony.

Bolsonaro said he had called the Lebanese ambassador to Brazil.

On leaving the ceremony, he told reporters that his government is in contact with representatives of the Lebanese community in Sao Paulo to decide what kind of aid will be sent. Bolsonaro said a military aircraft is available for transport.

15:46 GMT – Former parliamentarian calls for independent inquiry committee

Marwan Hamadeh, a former Lebanese member of parliament who resigned on Tuesday, said the United Nations Security Council should consider creating an international inquiry committee to investigate the blast.

His remarks come a day after the Lebanese government formed a special committee tasked with investigating the deadly blast. It is headed by the justice minister, the prime minister and the heads of major security agencies.

“Everybody has been appointed by the parties in power, and therefore, no judge is able to carry out an investigation on this really serious explosion,” Hamadeh told Al Jazeera.

“Never have we witnessed such a catastrophe,” he said. “No body wants to hear anything. We have this dictatorship … Hezbollah on one side, and the party of the president (Aoun) on the other.” 

15:30 GMT – France opens probe into blast after 21 citizens wounded: prosecutors

Prosecutors in France opened an investigation after 21 French citizens were wounded in the devastating blast in Beirut, the Paris prosecutor said.

The prosecutors opened a probe into “involuntary injury” using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad, Paris prosecutor Remy Heintz said in a statement.  

Heitz said an initial count had shown that 21 French citizens were wounded in the blast, which killed at least 113 people and injured some 4,000 others. Dozens remain missing.

People inspect their car that was damaged in Tuesday's massive explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion flattened much of a port and damaged buildings acros

People inspect their car that was damaged in Tuesday’s massive explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon [Bilal Hussein/AP Photo]

15:16 GMT – #OurHomesAreOpen: Lebanese offer spare beds to Beirut blast victims

Using social media, hundreds of Lebanese have offered shelter in a bid to assist the some 250,000 displaced strangers. 

Using the hashtag #OurHomesAreOpen in Arabic and English, social media users have freely offered up spare beds and empty properties to victims, providing their names, phone numbers and details on the size and location of the accommodation.

“I wanted to do something about it, I was going crazy,” said the founder of the platform ThawraMap, originally used to identify protest locations, which is curating a list of available beds, including free accommodation from hotels.

“Today, a lot more people are going to be homeless. They go to their family or friends for a day or two and then what are they going to do?” the anti-government activist told Reuters News Agency.

Aftermath of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area

A woman stands inside her damaged home following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

15:03 GMT – Turkey’s parliament speakers offers condolences

The head of the Turkish parliament offered his condolences to his Lebanese counterpart and expressed Turkey’s willingness to send help.

“Turkey has always stood by Lebanon. In this difficult period, we are ready to offer support and aid for Lebanon with every means available,” Mustafa Sentop told Nabih Berri in a phone talk, according to a statement.

For his part, Berri thanked Sentop for his call and said, “The friendship becomes evident in such hard times.”

14:55 GMT – Lebanon declares emergency in Beirut, approves urgent funding

Lebanon’s cabinet declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut and handed control of security in the capital to the military.

The cabinet approved an exceptional allocation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds to deal with the crisis. The sum is notionally worth $66m based on the official exchange rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar, but is effectively worth some $13m based on the latest rate on the parallel market, which stood at around 7,500 in the days before the explosion.

14:33 GMT – Information minister says army to oversee house arrests of port offiicals

Lebanon’s Information Minister Manal Abdelsamad said that the military would oversee the house arrest of those responsible for storage and guarding at the Beirut port since June 2014.

Abdelsamad told reporters that these poeople would be put under house arrest “as soon as possible” after their identities were determined by an investigative committee that was formed followinf the blast.

The committee is headed by the justice minister and includes the prime minister and the heads of major security agencies.

The house arrests would be done “within the next five days”, which is when the committe is expected to reveal its findings and hand them over to the judiciary.

13:45 GMT – Lebanon’s cabinet to place port officials under house arrest: government source

The Lebanese cabinet has decided to place port officials under house arrest until investigations determine who is responsible for the blast, a governmental source told Al Jazeera following an emergency session. 

An official announcement is expected to be made shortly. 

It was not clear how many officials would be included or their seniority level. According to Reuters News Agency, the army will oversee the house arrest of the officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014.

13:07 GMT – France’s president says he is traveling to Lebanon with rescue workers

French President Emmanuel Macron announced he would fly to Beirut, and two planeloads of French rescue workers and aid were expected to touch down on Wednesday afternoon.

Macron’s office told The Associated Press that the French leader will meet with Lebanese political leaders but provided no further details. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties. 

Meanwhile, the EU commission said the plan is to urgently dispatch over 100 firefighters with vehicles, sniffer dogs and equipment designed to find people trapped in urban areas.

The Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands are taking part in the effort and other countries are expected to join.

Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Linah Alsaafin.

12:30 GMT – What we know about deadly Beirut explosion, in 500 words

An initial large explosion in the port area of Beirut took place around 6:00pm local time (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday, resulting in a fire, several small blasts and then a colossal explosion that flattened the harbour front and surrounding buildings.

Seismologists measured the event, which blew out windows at the city’s international airport nine kilometres (more than five miles) away, as the equivalent of a magnitude-3.3 earthquake.

Read more here.

12:15 GMT – ‘Stay strong, Lebanon’: Global support over deadly Beirut blast

Emergency medical aid and pop-up field hospitals have been dispatched to Lebanon as the world offers its support and pays tribute to the victims of the huge explosion that devastated Beirut.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on “friendly countries” to support the nation already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Gulf states were among the first to respond, with Qatar announcing it would send field hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon’s strained medical system.

Read more here.

12:00 GMT – Beirut port head said explosive material was warehoused based on court order

Beirut port’s general manager said the facility had warehoused highly explosive material, blamed for the powerful blast that rocked Beirut, six years ago based on a court order, local broadcaster OTV reported.

The broadcaster quoted Hassan Koraytem as telling it that the customs department and state security had asked authorities for the material to be exported or removed, but that “nothing happened”.

11:45 GMT – Australia to donate $1.4mn to Lebanon

Australia says it will donate two million Australian dollars ($1.4m) in humanitarian support to Lebanon to help Beirut recover from Tuesday’s massive explosion.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement the money will go to the World Food Programme and the Red Cross to help ensure food, medical care and essential items are provided to those affected.

She says Australia and Lebanon have a strong relationship built on extensive community ties, and more than 230,000 Australians have Lebanese heritage.

An Australian was killed and the Australian Embassy in Lebanon was damaged in the explosion.

11:30 GMT – After blast, Lebanon has less than a month’s grain reserves

Lebanon’s main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in a blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but still with enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said.

Raoul Nehme told Reuters a day after Tuesday’s devastating explosion that Lebanon needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.

“There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term.”

He said grain reserves in Lebanon’s remaining silos stood at “a bit less than a month” but said the destroyed silos had only held 15,000 tonnes of the grain at the time, much less than capacity which one official put at 120,000 tonnes.

11:15 GMT – Lebanese president promises transparent inquiry into Beirut blast

Lebanon’s president said an investigation into a powerful blast that rocked Beirut would reveal the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, and that the results would be revealed transparently.

In a televised speech at the start of a cabinet meeting, Michel Aoun also appealed to other nations to speed up assistance to Lebanon, which was already grappling with an economic meltdown.

“We are determined to investigate and reveal what happened as soon as possible, to mete out punishment,” Aoun said.

11:00 GMT – Lebanon blast ‘a real catastrophe’, analyst says

An analyst said Beirut’s massive explosion is like nothing he has seen in his life.

“This is a real catastrophe. What we’ve seen is cataclysmic,” Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs said.

“The magnitude, the impact of the explosion is beyond belief. I went through the civil war in Lebanon, I was witness to the [2005 former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri bombing, to other bombings that targeted politicians, but nothing of this scale I have seen in my life.”

“The port is the major route of trade for Lebanon, the point where we get our wheat, our gas oil, our medicine – this infrastructure is totally destroyed. At the moment, we are in deep need of one single dollar to come into Lebanon.”

10:40 GMT – Pope Francis offers prayers for Beirut victims

Pope Francis has offered prayers for the victims, their families, and for Lebanon.

The pontiff appealed that “through the dedication of all the social, political and religious elements,” Lebanon “might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

10:15 GMT – In Pictures: Beirut ‘like a war zone’ after deadly blast

Tuesday’s blast at port warehouses storing highly explosive material was the most powerful in years in Beirut, already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

“It’s like a warzone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told the Reuters News Agency while inspecting the damage on Wednesday that he estimated would cost billions of dollars.

A man inspects the damage following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A man inspects the damage following Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

See more here.

10:00 GMT – France sends rescuers, equipment to Lebanon

France will send two military planes to Lebanon with search and rescue experts, 15 tonnes of sanitary equipment and a mobile clinic equipped to treat 500 people injured in Tuesday’s monster blast at Beirut port, the presidency said.

The planes will leave from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris around midday (10:00 GMT) to arrive in Beirut late afternoon with 55 civil security personnel on board, it said.

A dozen emergency personnel will also be sent to Beirut shortly “to reinforce hospitals in the Lebanese capital,” said the presidency.

09:45 GMT – Beirut governor: more than 200,000 people lost their homes after blast

Marwan Abboud , the governor of Beirut, said ore than 200,000 people have become homeless after a massive blast at Beirut port destroyed many buildings.

Abboud told MTV news that between 200,000 and 250,000 people had lost their homes and authorities are working on providing them with food, water and shelter.

“We lost 10 members of the Beirut Fire Brigade and damages range between 3 [billion] and 5 billion dollars and maybe more,” he said.

The governor had revealed that a security report from 2014 warned of the possibility of an explosion in Lebanon’s capital as highly explosive materials had not been stored in a way to ensure public safety.

09:30 GMT – Turkish aid group helps Beirut victims, Ankara offers field hospital

Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) is among those searching for survivors in Beirut, and Ankara has offered to build a field hospital and help as needed.

“We’ve relayed our offer to help … [and] we are expecting a response from the Lebanese side,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.

Members of the IHH group were digging through debris to look for people and recover bodies, and the group mobilised a kitchen at a Palestinian refugee camp to deliver food to those in need, said Mustafa Ozbek, an Istanbul-based official from the group.

“We are providing assistance with one ambulance to transfer patients. We may provide help according to the needs of the hospital,” he said.

09:05 GMT – Pakistan voices solidarity with Lebanon after explosion

Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday expressed sorrow over loss of over 100 lives in a massive explosion that rocked Beirut.

“Deeply pained to hear of the massive explosions in Beirut with precious lives lost & thousand injured,” Khan said in a tweet. “We stand in solidarity with our Lebanese brethren in their difficult hour, sharing their sorrow & grief.”

Deeply pained to hear of the massive explosions in Beirut with precious lives lost & thousand injured.We stand in solidarity with our Lebanese brethren in their difficult hour, sharing their sorrow & grief. May Allah grant speedy recovery to the injured & strength to the bereaved

— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 5, 2020

08:45 GMT – Lebanese PM appeals for help after Beirut blast

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in a short televised speech, has appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation.

“We are witnessing a real catastrophe,” he said, before reiterating his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price.

Diab also said it was “unacceptable” that a shipment of approximately 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – believed by authorities to be the trigger of the explosion – was stored in a warehouse in Beirut’s port for six years without safety measures.

08:15 GMT – What is ammonium nitrate?

Bags containing ammonium nitrate fertilizer are dispalyed at an agricultural trader in Vieillevigne

Bags containing ammonium nitrate fertilizer [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said caused the devastating Beirut blast, is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.  

When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by armed groups such as the Taliban for improvised explosives.

Under normal storage conditions and without very high heat, it is difficult to ignite ammonium nitrate. That is because it is an oxidizer – it intensifies combustion and allows other substances to ignite more readily, but is not itself very combustible.

Read more here.

07:45 GMT – Beirut blast: Tracing the explosives that tore apart the capital

It was only after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut that most people in Lebanon learned about the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar at the city’s port.

However, analysis of public records and documents published online show senior Lebanese officials knew for more than six years that the ammonium nitrate was stored in Hangar 12 of Beirut’s port.

And they were well aware of the dangers it posed.

Read more here.

Massive explosion rips through Beirut

07:05 GMT – Iran offers to treat people injured in Beirut blast

Iran’s president has offered to send medical aid to Lebanon and treat people injured in the massive blast that killed at least 100 people in Beirut.

“Iran announces its readiness to send medical aid to Lebanon and also offers treatment of the injured and other necessary medical assistance,” Hassan Rouhani said, according to state TV.

“We hope that the circumstances of this incident will be determined as soon as possible and that peace will return to Beirut.”

06:45 GMT – UK says too early to speculate on cause of massive blast in Beirut

The United Kingdom has said it was too early to speculate on the cause of a massive blast that ripped through Beirut.

When asked about speculation about the causes of the blast, British junior education minister Nick Gibb said: “The Lebanese authorities are of course investigating the cause of that tragedy and before we have the results of that inquiry it is premature to speculate.”

Gibb also told Sky that Britain was discussing what technical and financial assistance could be offered to Lebanon.

05:55 GMT – Lebanese Red Cross death toll rises to more than 100

People run for cover following an explosion in Beirut's port area

People run for cover following an explosion in Beirut’s port area [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

George Kettaneh, the head of the Lebanese Red Cross, has said at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded in the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday.

Kettaneh added the toll could rise further, and that the Red Cross was coordinating with the health ministry for morgues to take victims because hospitals were overwhelmed.


Hello, this is Linah Alsaafin in Doha taking over from my colleague Ted Regencia.


05:40 GMT – Australia mourns Lebanon disaster, one national killed

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Wednesday the death of one Australian after a massive blast ripped through the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

“Our hearts go out to all of those in Lebanon and in Beirut in particular at the moment,” he said, adding that the Australian embassy had been significantly impacted.

Officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through the rubble to search for survivors.

05:20 GMT – Cyprus says ready to send medical teams to Lebanon

Cyprus says it stands ready to offer medical aid to neighbouring Lebanon after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut port, killing at least 78 people and injuring thousands, Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told state broadcaster CyBCthe Cypriot embassy in Beirut, which was closed at the time of the blast, was badly damaged.

Tuesday’s explosion was heard throughout Cyprus, which lies more than 200km (124 miles) away.

04:50 GMT – India’s Modi ‘saddened’ by Beirut explosion

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “shocked and saddened” after learning of the large and deadly explosion that hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut, his office said on Wednesday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families and the injured,” the prime minister’s office added.

It was unclear if there were Indian nationals affected by the blast that killed at least 78 people and injured about 4,000 others.

04:12 GMT – At least three Beirut hospitals destroyed, two damaged

Dr Mirna Doumit, president of the Order of Nurses in Beirut, said three of the city’s hospitals had been destroyed.

“So we had to evacuate patients who were in those hospitals to others. In addition, we have two other hospitals that were partially destroyed. So it was a catastrophe and a big hit to the healthcare system, which was already bleeding,” she told Al Jazeera from the Lebanese capital.

“We lost three nurses working in the hospitals. I don’t find words to describe what happened. It’s like we are in a horror film.”

People gather outside American University of Beirut (AUB) medical centre following an explosion in Beirut

People gather outside American University of Beirut medical centre [Yara Abi Nader/ Reuters]

Lebanon

Medics move an injured person from Najjar Hospital to another hospital in the Hamra area in Beirut [Nabil Mounzer/EPA] 

04:01 GMT – Analyst: Lebanon needs international help to deal with disaster

Nasser Yassin, professor at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera he doubts the Lebanese government will be able to deal with this disaster on its own and called on the international community to provide food support, noting major grain silos had been destroyed in the blast.

“We’ve seen the Lebanese government not taking the right decisions when it comes to the economy, or finances or social issues. And I can imagine that this disaster, this catastrophe, will be dealt by the way Lebanese people do – relying on themselves and the support of their communities,” he said.

“For the coming days and months, we will be dealing with the immediate aftermath, and after that, we really need to look into new ways and new people to govern this country,” he said, adding: “We need more responsible leaders and we need the engagement of the international community to deal with this disaster.”

03:00 GMT – Malaysia offers to help ‘in any way we can’

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein expressed his country’s grief over the Beirut blast, and offered to help in “any way we can”.

“Malaysia stands together in grief as our thoughts and prayers accompany the strong people of Lebanon,” he said in a Twitter post. “We stand ready to support any way we can.”

Malaysia stands together in grief as our thoughts and prayers accompany the strong people of 🇱🇧 Lebanon. We stand ready to support any way we can. Initial reports from our @MYEmbBeirut show that all Malaysians there are safe and have been advised to stay at home #PrayForLebanon pic.twitter.com/tpJJ8HAo5x

— Hishammuddin Hussein 🇲🇾 (@HishammuddinH2O) August 5, 2020

02:25 GMT – At least two Filipinos among the dead

At least two Filipino nationals were among the dead in the massive explosion in Beirut, according to the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon.

The embassy statement also said six other Filipinos were injured in the blast.

More than 27,000 Filipinos are working in Lebanon, according to the latest figures of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

02:12 GMT – Customs office blames Beirut port chief for storage of explosives

Badri Daher, the director of Lebanon’s customs office, said his agency was not responsible for the ammonium nitrate stores that triggered a massive explosion that left dozens dead.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Daher pointed the finger instead at Hassan Koraytem, head of the port.

Koraytem could not be reached for comment. The Port Directorate is under the authority of the Public Works and Transport Ministry.

01:40 GMT – Beirut explosion triggers 3.5 earthquake

The massive explosion in Beirut triggered a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ.

The explosion, which killed at least 78 people and injured about 4,000 others, was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200km (124 miles) away across the Mediterranean.

00:01 GMT – Lebanon defence council recommends army oversee Beirut’s security

Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council recommended declaring a two-week state of emergency in the capital and handing over security responsibility to military authorities.

A council statement, read live on television, said President Michel Aoun has decided to release 100 billion Lebanese pounds ($66m) in emergency allocations from the 2020 budget.

It also recommended, in advance of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, that a committee be tasked with investigating the explosion and present its findings within five days to mete out the maximum punishment to those responsible.

Large explosion rocks Lebanon’s capital

____________________________________________________________

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. I’m Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

For other key developments related to the Beirut explosion from yesterday, August 4, click here

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Top Turkish official denounces Bolton memoir

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A top Turkish official has denounced a memoir by former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, saying it contains ” misleading, one-sided and manipulative” accounts of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conversations with his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump.In a series of tweets, Turkish presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said the book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” was driven by political considerations and personal gain.“We find it reprehensible that former high-level officials attempt to use serious diplomatic conversations and efforts to resolve outstanding issues between allies like the U.S. and Turkey for their domestic political agendas,” Altun said.Bolton claimed in the memoir that Trump sought to interfere in an investigation into Turkish state-owned bank, Halkbank, in an effort to cut deals with Erdogan.Halkbank was charged with evading U.S. sanctions against Iran by processing billions of dollars of Iranian oil revenue. An indictment said the bank illegally moved about $20 billion in Iranian oil and gas revenues, sometimes disguising money movements as purchases of food and medicine.Altun said Erdogan “clearly outlines Turkey’s priorities and advocates for them vigorously” including the Halkbank issue. Altun tweeted: “We are confident that the US-Turkey relationship will survive such efforts and even thrive at the end. President Erdogan will continue his frank, honest, and straightforward conversations with the U.S. President Donald Trump.”
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Libya’s NOC lifts force majeure on oil in ports without fighters

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Move by the National Oil Corporation comes after eastern-based forces announced lifting of eight-month blockade.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has lifted a force majeure on what it deemed secure oil ports and facilities, but said the measure would remain in place for facilities where fighters remain.

On Friday, eastern-based Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar said his forces would lift their eight-month blockade of oil exports, but did not say if they would leave the facilities they control.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and allied forces, including mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, hold some of Libya’s largest oil fields and export ports, and the NOC had already rejected any return to operations until they left the facilities, citing the safety of its staff.

“Force majeure continues in oil fields and ports where the presence of fighters from Wagner and other armed groups that obstruct the activities and operations of NOC is confirmed,” the oil company said in a statement posted on its Facebook page on Saturday.

Force majeure refers to unexpected external circumstances that prevent a party to a contract, in this case the NOC, from meeting its obligations.

Libya and its institutions are divided between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Haftar’s LNA.

The country’s oil revenues are managed by the NOC and the central bank, both based in Tripoli.

Lost revenue

The eastern forces’ blockade of oil exports has cost $9bn in lost revenue for Libya so far this year, the central bank said this week, and has exacerbated electricity and fuel shortages in the country.

On Friday, Haftar said the command of his forces had “put aside all military and political considerations” to respond to the “deterioration of living conditions” in Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves.

The announcement comes after hundreds of Libyans protested last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, one of Haftar’s strongholds, and other cities over corruption, power cuts and shortages in petrol and cash.

Haftar’s statement lifting the blockade was made in coordination with the GNA’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maetig.

According to an official at his office, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj opposed the final deal. “The prime minister did not give his approval to the final version of the deal,” the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Haftar – who has the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia – launched an offensive against Tripoli in April of last year.

After 14 months of fierce fighting, pro-GNA forces backed by Turkey expelled his troops from much of western Libya and pushed them to Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s rich oilfields and export terminals.

Will Libya’s latest ceasefire bring peace? | Inside Story

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At 60 and with new rulers, Mali once again at a crossroads

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Sixty years since independence, Mali, once again, stands at a crossroads.

The new military rulers who last month overthrew embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita named on Monday former Defence Minister Bah Ndaw president of a transitional government, tasking him with leading the country to elections. Colonel Assimi Goita, head of the group of soldiers behind the August 18 coup, was appointed vice president.

The announcement, made on state television on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the independent Republic of Mali, marked the latest twist in a deepening saga with major implications for a fragile country at the heart of the battle against armed groups in the wider Sahel region.

It was not immediately clear whether the appointment of the 70-year-old Ndaw would please the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, which for weeks now has been pushing for a transition to civilian rule. Fearing that the unconstitutional transfer of power may set an example domestically and compromise international efforts to contain the worsening security crisis that has spread beyond Mali’s borders, regional leaders have sought to pressure the military government by cutting off money flows and imposed sanctions.

Yvan Guichaoua, a Sahel expert at the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies, said Ndaw’s appointment was “good news” as political heavyweights with electoral ambitions appeared unwilling to step forward due to a ban on transitional leaders that prevents them from running in the next polls.

Describing him as “a lesser-known figure with a reputation of decency”, Guichaoua said his profile “looks acceptable by the domestic political forces and the international community.

“The ECOWAS wanted a civilian president and Ndaw meets this criterion, even though he is retired military,” he added. “We’re now getting closer to having a functional institutional architecture able to govern Mali, in which the junta will, in any case, remain highly influential.”

Colonel Assimi Goita was named vice president [File: Moussa Kalapo/Reuters]

Andrew Lebovich, a policy fellow with the European Council for Foreign Relations, said that while N’Daw is generally seen as a well-respected figure, it may be too soon to determine if his nomination is a positive development. 

“Naming the transitional president is just one step in a long process of necessary reforms and government actions that have not yet been taken,” Lebovich said. 

“We also don’t know yet what his priorities may be as transitional president, and given that the CNSP leader Col. Assimi Goita will be Vice President of the transitional government, it’s clear the junta will maintain an active presence within the transitional government.”

France, the former colonial power which has for years spearheaded international military efforts against armed groups in the region, had also called for a swift handover. But it had also had to tread a careful path, condemning the coup while at the same time tempering its criticism of the military officers who removed 75-year-old Keita – a leader who appeared to be on a good footing with Paris but faced growing opposition at home due to the country’s persistent economic malaise and spiralling security crisis.

“Having been seen as supporters of Keita, their (France’s) position is weakened in Mali,” said Jean-Yves Haine, a professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle university and ILERI school in Paris.

There was no immediate reaction by France to the announcement about the new government, which is to be inaugurated on September 25.

Tumultuous history

A French colony since the late 19th century, Mali achieved independence in 1960, first in a federation alongside Senegal on June 20, 1960, and then becoming a country in its own right on September 22 of that year following the secession of its neighbour the month before.

Since then, the West African country has retained strong relations with France as it experienced alternate cycles of political stability and instability, punctuated by rebellions, financials woes and military coups -several of them.

Its very first president, Modibo Keita, was overthrown in 1968 by Moussa Traore, a young army lieutenant who met the same fate nearly a quarter of a century later. Buoyed by widespread anger at the government, Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure in 1991 led a coup against Traore. But unlike Traore, Toure quickly withdrew from public life – auguring the country’s longest period of democratic governance – only to return some 10 years later to successfully run for the presidency.

With a month left to his second term in office, however, Toure himself was toppled in 2012 amid dissatisfaction about the government’s response to a surge in rebel activity in the country’s north. The overthrow and killing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi the previous year led many Tuareg rebels who had headed to the neighbouring country to fight on the side of its longtime ruler to cross the Sahara and return to Mali, bringing them with an ample stock of weapons and military trucks.

Taking advantage of the political turmoil in the capital, Bamako, the battle-hardened separatists from the marginalised Tuareg community, allied with an al-Qaeda offshoot, quickly overran much of the country’s north. But the rebellion was quickly hijacked by armed groups, which seized control of major northern cities.

With the fighters advancing towards the south, the alarmed the interim authorities in the capital, Bamako, appealed to France for help.

“They (armed groups) are seeking to deal a fatal blow to the very existence of Mali,” then-French President Francis Hollande said in January 2013 as he announced the launch of Operation Serval to beat back the fighters. “France, as is the case with its African partners and all of the international community, cannot accept this,” he added.

The French-led military operation helped dislodge the al-Qaeda-linked fighters, paving the way for elections in 2013 which brought Keita – also known by his initials, IBK – to power.

Violence, however, severely escalated during Keita’s seven years in office, with large parts of Mali still remaining beyond government control.

Malian troops and French soldiers during a 2017 joint patrol in Inaloglog [File: Benoit Tessier/Reuters]

‘Original sin’

Despite a multitude of regional and international forces active in the Sahel – including France’s Operation Barkhane, whose roughly 5,000 troops are mostly based in the north and east of Mali – the armed groups have managed to proliferate and strengthen their foothold across the semi-arid region south of the Sahara.

Attacks have jumped fivefold since 2016, with thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced amid a drastically devolving situation in Mali’s volatile central region.

The failure to restore stability after years of military efforts has fed into a growing anti-French sentiment in Mali, with critics denouncing the military presence of the former colonial power in the country and growing suspicious of its role in the wider region.

“In Bamako, [anti-French sentiment] emanates from sections of the political landscape most attached to Mali’s sovereignty, which won’t accept French interference in Malian affairs,” said Guichaoua.

“They accuse France of having stopped the return of the Malian forces in Kidal in 2013, when France drove out the jihadi coalition that had occupied northern Mali in 2012, in order to let the separatists regain their stronghold.”

Describing it as a domestic issue, France did not take on the Tuareg, who remained in control of their bastion of Kidal, a Sahara outpost near Mali’s border with Algeria.

Guichaoua said that, while this could be considered the “original sin” of the French in the eyes of some sections of Mali’s population, those in Kidal also contested France’s presence on account of the war and the way it is being waged.

Late last year, a series of anti-France protests prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to call on countries in the region to express public support for Paris’s expensive operation, threatening to withdraw its 4,500 troops, before changing tack and committing an additional 600 soldiers.

Following last month’s coup, France, as well as the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, have declared they will continue operations in the country during the transitional period.

And while Mali’s new kingmakers might still align with the French militarily, it remains to be seen whether Paris will still be able to influence political developments.

“The junta is not aligned with the M5-RFP, the anti-IBK coalition which has in its midst some vocal anti-French figures,” said Guichaoua, referring to the opposition alliance that led weeks of relentless street protests calling for the resignation of the former president.

“The junta is made of pragmatic leaders, whose stance towards the French is open but might also depend on the ability of the M5-RFP to push its agenda.”

For Haine, this is where the crux of the problem lies. He said progress on the political and economic fronts must be made if the military intervention is to produce any positive result.

“Military solutions to fight terrorism are only part of a larger strategy. Political stabilisation, public support, institutional strength and above all, socioeconomic conditions are key elements for an external intervention to succeed.”

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