Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

More than 60 still missing after Beirut mega-blast, official says

The blast at the city's port killed 154 people, including 25 who are yet to be identified

More than 60 people are still missing in Beirut, four days after a massive explosion at the port left more than 150 people dead, a health ministry official said on Saturday.

The death toll from Tuesday's port explosion stands at 154, according to an official estimate on Friday, but is expected to rise further, with more than 5,000 people injured, some seriously.

Lebanon's Kataeb Party, a Christian group which opposes the government backed by the Iran-supported Hezbollah, announced on Saturday the resignation of its three lawmakers from parliament.

As previously confirmed to The National, the decision was announced by party head Samy Gemayel during the funeral of the party's Secretary General Nizar Najjarian, who was killed in the blast.

Najjarian succumbed to serious injuries sustained at the party’s headquarters near the blast site.

"The Kataeb MPs have decided to move to confrontation for the sake of a free, sovereign, independent Lebanon," he said. "I invite all honourable [MPs] to resign so that the people can decide who will govern them, without anybody imposing anything to them."

Al Jadeed TV reported that Mr Gemayel said: "We do not trust the current administration for it is responsible for the situation that we have reached.”

He said the current administration should not take part in the investigation into the explosion.

The Christian party's three resignations from the 128-seat parliament come after those of Marwan Hamade, from the party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and independent MP Paula Yacoubian.

Ms Yacoubian told the CNN news channel that she was urging the entire parliament to stand down.

"As the MP of Beirut, I took the decision of resigning because I feel I'm a false witness in this parliament," she said.

"There's nothing we can do, the decision-making is outside the parliament," she said. "Everyone should resign."

Lebanon's ambassador to Jordan also resigned in the aftermath of the blast, caused when fire spread to a depot where a huge amount of ammonium nitrate had been stored for years, unsecured.

Early evidence shows top officials knew of its presence at the port and that safety procedures were knowingly and repeatedly violated.

The wife of the Dutch ambassador to Lebanon died on Saturday after being seriously injured in the explosion, the Dutch Foreign Ministry announced.

Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, 55, was injured by the explosion as she stood next to her husband, Ambassador Jan Waltmans, in the living room of their house in Beirut, the ministry said.

Tuesday's blast caused extensive damage to the Dutch embassy, injuring four other people connected to it.

Large protests are expected in Downtown Beirut in a movement being referred to as the "Saturday of revenge”, reported Lebanon's Daily Star.

They will demand justice for all those who died as a result of the explosion and echo the original demands of the October protests, which called for the removal of the entire political class in the country and the abolishment of the sectarian political system.

The revelation that a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years in a warehouse in the heart of the capital served as shocking proof to many Lebanese of the rot at the core of their political system.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun has rejected an international probe into the catastrophic blast, saying a missile or negligence could have been responsible as rescuers still desperately comb the rubble for survivors.

Mr Aoun also admitted on Friday that the "paralysed" political system needed to be "reconsidered".

He pledged "swift justice", but said he saw an international probe as an attempt to "dilute the truth".

"There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb," he said, the first time a top Lebanese official raised the possibility that the port had been attacked.

What ignited the massive shipment of the chemical remains unclear – officials have said work had recently begun on repairs to the warehouse, while others suspected fireworks stored either in the same place or nearby.

Near the site of the explosion, by the carcass of the port's giant grain silos, rescue teams from France, Russia, Germany, Italy and other countries co-ordinated their search efforts.

The World Food Programme has promised food for affected families and wheat imports to replace lost stocks from the silos, and US President Donald Trump said he would join other leaders in a conference call Sunday to discuss co-ordinating international aid.

Four bodies were uncovered near the port's control room on Friday, where a significant number of people were expected to have been working at the time of the blast.

No one has been found alive.

The Arab League has promised to mobilise Arab efforts to provide support to Lebanon. Speaking after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said they were also ready to assist the investigation into the blast.

"We are ready to help with all our means," he said.

Updated: August 9, 2020 11:57 AM

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email
Most Read