Blast Rips Beirut; Government Negligence Stokes Protests, Violence; Macron Promises Aid

A massive blast ripped apart Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The explosion occurred at a warehouse in the city’s port area. Initial reports were up to 78 people killed and more than 5,000 injured. The explosion sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and leveled nearby buildings. The blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been ignited. Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Reported by Fox News. Read more… Early reports suggested the possibility of Hezbollah involvement in “unofficial” control over firefighting efforts at an explosives depot led to the blast. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has “categorically” denied the terror group had stored any weapons or explosives at the port. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… A later report on Israeli TV, however, said that Hezbollah planned to use the ammonium nitrate against Israel in a third war. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Ammonium nitrate is a substance often used in fertilizers. It is not an explosive itself but can ignite under the right circumstance. It has been the cause of several industrial blasts over the years, including the Texas City disaster of 1947, where 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing about 500 people. It also exploded at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013, killing 15. Ammonium nitrate was also used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168. Reported by CBS News. Read more… Reported by ABC News. Read more… Reported by The Guardian. Read more… The Guardian has published a visual guide to the explosion, explaining its effects. Reported by The Guardian. Read more… The Washington Post published a visual analysis of the explosion, with multiple videos, explaining how the explosion occurred and showing its effects. Reported by The Washington Post. Read more…

Despite Lebanon’s claim the explosion was caused by ammonium nitrate, U.S. President Donald Trump said military generals told him the explosion was likely caused by a bomb of some kind. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that this was not some kind of manufacturing explosion type of an event,” Trump said. “They seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.” Reported by Fox News. Read more… U.S. officials were quick to say, however, that it was too early to say whether the explosion was caused by a bomb. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicted Trump’s claim, saying, “most believe that it was an accident as reported and beyond that, I have nothing further to report on that. It’s obviously a tragedy.” Reported by Fox news. Read more… Trump himself later walked back his claim, saying, “Whatever happened, it is terrible. They don’t really know what happened. I don’t think anybody can say right now, we’re looking into it very strongly.” Reported by Fox News. Read more… Others were not happy with Trump’s remarks. Tom Fletcher, former British ambassador to Lebanon, said, “I would advise against listening to Donald Trump at the best of times, let alone the worst.” Fletcher then excoriated Trump, saying, “You can’t show up unprepared for the Middle East. Careless messaging from the White House has consequences, even when no one takes the tweeter seriously. I hope future American presidents will try to help put out fires in the region, not fan them.” Democratic senator Chris Murphey tweeted, “Before the explosion, Lebanon was already in dire crisis, with a collapsed economy and sectarian tensions at a boiling point. I can’t imagine anything worse right now than Trump making unfounded claims of an ‘attack’.” Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Lebanon already faced several crises before the explosion, including Covid-19, protests against government corruption, economic freefall, and longstanding regional conflicts, including Hezbollah’s assistance of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime in a civil war and ongoing confrontations between the terror group and Israel. Reported by The Guardian. Read more… The explosion, on top of all else, left one young Lebanese man wondering whether the country was cursed. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

The ammonium nitrate was linked to a Russian ship—MV Rhosus—that had been docked in the port since 2013. The ship had been carrying the fertilizer and was en route to Mozambique when its owners hit financial difficulties and eventually abandoned it. The fertilizer was then off-loaded and stored in a warehouse. Lebanese customs director Badri Daher repeatedly warned government officials that the fertilizer posed a threat of exploding but says he was repeatedly ignored. Reported by Fox News. Read more… The ship was owned by Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin and was reported to be in poor condition and over 40 years old. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Revelations that government negligence may have played a role in the explosion incited more anger against Lebanon’s political class. As recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if it were not moved it would “blow up all of Beirut.” Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Violent demonstrations took place in Beirut on Saturday. Protesters stormed the energy and economy ministries and set fire to the offices of the Association of Lebanese Bankers, who protesters blame for the country’s banking crisis. Protesters also called for the resignation of the government and punishment for those whose negligence they say led to Tuesday’s explosion. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Demonstrators also targeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, hanging of cutout of him from a noose during one demonstration. They hung several political leaders in effigy, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Nasrallah and Aoun are two key power brokers in Lebanese politics. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… Lebanese security forces used teargas to target demonstrators. Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Further reported by The Guardian. Read more… Lebanon’s information minister, Amnal Abdel Samad, resigned, apologizing to the public for failing them. Meanwhile, the Patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite church, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, called for the resignation of the entire government. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Day after-reports further showed the extent of the disaster. As the death toll soared to over 100, CBS News Producer Sami Aouad said, “Houses, buildings, dead bodies in streets, injuries, hospitals couldn’t accept more injuries and bodies because they were full. Beirut is a destroyed city. It is like a real war zone.” Secretary General of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said “The disaster is unprecedented.” Reported by CBS News. Read more… The death toll later rose to more than 135 killed. The blast was felt as far away as Cyprus. Reported by CNN. Read more… All port officials have been placed under house arrest by the military while the government has promised a full and transparent investigation. Reported by the BBC. Read more…

The U.S. military sent three cargo planes to Lebanon filled with medical supplies. Reported by Fox News. Read more… France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, visited Beirut, where protesters pleaded that he help bring political change to Lebanon. Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Macron promised that foreign aid would not fall into “corrupt hands.” Reported by Fox News. Read more…

On Sunday, the Lebanese military said there is little or no hope of finding any more survivors at the blast site. The current death toll stands at over 150 dead, with 15 missing. Some 6,000 people were injured. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…