On August 4th, a massive explosion took place in Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, leaving at least 100 dead and injuring more than 4,000.
At least 48 staff members of the United Nations and 27 members of their families were among injured. 10 rescuers involved in the operation to contain the damage and help people also reportedly died.
— eurochan.org (@eurochandotorg) August 4, 2020
The explosion sent a shockwave across the city and blew out windows up to 10 kilometers away, it was felt as far as Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which is typically used as an agricultural fertilizer, had been stored for six years at a port warehouse without safety measures, “endangering the safety of citizens,” according to a statement.
It is not specifically clear what caused the explosion itself, only what presumably exploded afterwards.
This came on the heels of a formal Israeli denial that it had anything to do with it, which also seemed be echoed by Hezbollah officials.
Israeli military sources tell Israeli 10 News reporter: Israel didn't bomb Beirut. The explosion did not occur in a Hezbollah weapons depot. This was not a security-related event. https://t.co/hgDXFVxZdH
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) August 4, 2020
Initial reports in state media blamed the blast on a major fire at a firecrackers warehouse near the port, that likely spread to nearby buildings.
However, the Prime Minister’s account appeared to be backed by Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who said a “highly explosive material” had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes’ walk from Beirut’s shopping and nightlife districts.
However, US President Donald Trump made a different statement, saying that it was a “bomb of some kind.”
Without providing any evidence, President Trump claims the explosion in #Beirut is a result of an attack.
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) August 4, 2020
Trump said he had been briefed by “our great generals” and that they “seem to feel” that the explosion was not an accident.
“According to them – they would know better than I would – but they seem to think it was an attack,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It was a bomb of some kind.”
So the President of the United States is (1) once again publicly revealing highly sensitive national security information; or (2) needlessly exacerbating an already tense and fraught reaction to a tragedy—or both.
Must be Tuesday… https://t.co/OvA7Xs7Vvw
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) August 4, 2020
Trump essentially either shared classified information, or once again just made baseless claims without evidence.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also pledged aid after the “horrible tragedy”.
The US Embassy in Lebanon was warned American citizens and residents in the surrounding area of the potential for toxic gases and chemicals in the air.
“There are reports of toxic gases released in the explosion so all in the area should stay indoors and wear masks if available,” the embassy said on its website.
CNN cited experts who claimed that the official cause of the explosion – ammonium nitrate was inconsistent with how the material burned or exploded.
“I’ve done a lot of accident investigations with the government, both national and international, and it is clear to me that this was a large amount of explosives or energetic material stored in a building that caught fire and that fire propagated to the explosives, causing the accident,” said Tony May, a former explosives investigator for the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Robert Baer, a former CIA operative with extensive experience in the Middle East said videos of Tuesday’s blast showed that while ammonium nitrate may have been present in the warehouse, he does not believe it was responsible for the massive explosion that ensued.
“It was clearly a military explosive,” he said. “It was not fertilizer like ammonium nitrate. I’m quite sure of that.”
“You look at that orange ball (of fire), and it’s clearly, like I said, a military explosive.”
“It almost looks like an accident,” he said. “It was incompetence, and maybe it was corruption, but the question is whether it was military explosives, who was it going to or why was it stored there?”
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