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Lebanese president says blast probe looking into external interference among possible causes

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Lebanon’s president said an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion was looking at whether it was caused by negligence, an accident or possible external interference, his office cited him as telling local media on Friday.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun said in comments carried by local media and confirmed by his office.

He said the probe into Tuesday’s blast at a warehouse housing highly-explosive material was being conducted on three levels. “First, how the explosive material entered and was stored … second whether the explosion was a result of negligence or an accident … and third the possibility that there was external interference.”

Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.

The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.

Aftermath of massive blast in Beirut
 A handout photo made available by the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos shows a general view of the Beirut Port area before (top) and after (bottom) the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. EPA-EFE/ROSCOSMOS 

Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.

The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.

The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.

Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometres) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion – a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.

Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.

s2.reutersmedia.net

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