Lebanon: death toll from Akkar explosion rises to 31

Several severely injured victims were flown to the UAE and Turkey for treatment

A medevac flight carrying Akkar blast victims arrives at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
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Four victims of a fuel tanker explosion in northern Lebanon died in quick succession on Sunday, taking the death toll to 31.

They included Hassan Al Maslamani, one of three men flown to Abu Dhabi for treatment after the blast one week ago.

“This number can still increase,” Jean Helou, the director of the medical directorate at Lebanon’s health ministry, told The National.

He said 32 people were being treated for injuries sustained in the blast on August 15, several of whom were in hospital abroad.

Al Maslamani, 31, and two others were treated at the burns unit of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City.

The UAE bore the expense, said Fouad Dandan, Lebanon’s ambassador to the country. He said the two surviving patients were in stable condition and doctors had said they were likely to recover.

Al Maslamani’s body was to be flown to Lebanon on Sunday evening.

The state-run National News Agency reported that a fourth man suffering from severe burns died on Sunday afternoon. Mahmoud Hussein Awad, a Syrian national, was a resident of the town of Al Kouachra, close to the Syrian border.

A Lebanese soldier, Corporal Raed Al Hassan, was buried on Sunday morning in Al Daouseh, where he was from, two days after four members of the same family were laid to rest in the town. All had died in the blast.

Al Hassan was taken to Turkey on Wednesday alongside an injured civilian. Caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan said they had suffered burns to 90 per cent of their bodies.

On Saturday, the NNA reported that a Syrian man, Omar Al Jadaa, had died from severe burns sustained in the explosion.

Two of his brothers were also killed by the blast, and the NNA said their grandmother died after hearing of Al Jadaa’s death.

The siblings were among the crowd that rushed to take fuel from a tanker that had been seized by the army on the evening of August 14 in the village of Al Tleil in Akkar, a remove and impoverished region.

Soldiers had previously been deployed across the country to clamp down on hoarded fuel.

The army distributed the fuel confiscated in Al Tleil to locals, in a move repeated around the country.

Soldiers who witnessed the incident early the next morning told The National the son of the fuel’s owner angrily tried to put a stop to the distribution and that shots were subsequently fired.

The Red Cross reported 79 injured on the day of the blast. It came as a severe blow to Lebanon, which is already battling its worst economic crisis, compounded by Covid-19 and the huge explosion in Beirut last year.

“Lebanese leaders have burnt the country and turned us into beggars,” Fawzi Hammad, a retired labourer from Akkar who lost three relatives in the blast, previously told The National.

The NNA reported on Sunday that relatives of Hani Suleiman, who was injured in the blast, had blocked a road in the town of Al Bireh in Akkar in protest because he had not been transferred abroad for treatment, despite his mother’s pleas for help.

Six more injured are expected to be taken to Kuwait on Sunday evening.

Lebanon’s cash-strapped hospitals are struggling to meet patients’ basic needs, including supplying them with intravenous fluid.

Electricity shortages have forced many to turn off cooling systems, despite the intense summer heat and humidity.

A committee dedicated to following up on the explosion, and which includes mayors from several towns of Akkar, criticised President Michel Aoun on Sunday for his apparent lack of empathy.

Mr Aoun “did not offer his condolences in last night’s speech to the families of the victims and wounded, and did not address the tragedy that befell the people of Akkar, in which dozens were killed, mostly soldiers,” the committee said.

They called on the Justice Ministry to clarify the course of the investigation into the reasons of the explosion.

Updated: August 22, 2021, 6:23 PM