The site of the fire that broke out at Beirut’s port area | Hussein Malla / AP Photo

By Pierre Balanian

Sep 10 2020

People fear a new explosion, like the one of 4 August that devastated the port area. For the army it is a controlled fire of debris. The Port director has his doubts, wondering who put tyres next to engine oil. Firefighters are at work to contain the flames. British media claim Hezbollah controlled the nitrate that caused last month’s explosion. The port has become the symbol of the country’s corruption. The “Help devastated Beirut” campaign continues.

BEIRUT – At about 1.30 pm today a thick column of dark gray smoke rose from the Port of Beirut billowing in the sky over Beirut.

Among Beirut residents, news of a fire in the port area sparked renewed fears of another disaster like the one that devastated a neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital just over a month ago.

A few days ago, about three tonnes of ammonium nitrate were found in a warehouse away from the port; no one knows where they came from or who owns them.

Today’s fire broke out in a section close to the area hit by the August explosions, in a warehouse holding tyres and motor oil for cars, this according to dock workers.

A Lebanese army source, contacted immediately by AsiaNews, denied that the fire broke out in such a location. Instead, he said that some debris from last month’s blast caught fire. Firefighters are at the scene, busy preventing the flames from spreading.

Residents were not reassured by the sound of ambulances and fire lorries rushing towards the port. In the neighbourhoods close to the explosion, many people left their homes heading for safer open areas.

The army has closed the roads leading to the port. Unconfirmed reports reject the version of a controlled fire of the debris. Most people are worried about who is behind the fire and why contradictory news are being circulated.

Port director Bassem Kaissi criticised those who placed tyres next to motor oil, suggesting that it was not a controlled burning of tyres.

For him, the main concern is to prevent the flames from going beyond the Charles Helou Bridge, near houses already devastated by the explosion of 4 August, an area where several NGOs are still involved in cleaning and removal operations.

Today’s fire comes a day after the British press published reports claiming that responsibility for the 4 August explosion falls almost certainly on Hezbollah. The self-styled “Party of God”, British media claim, was in control of the ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion.

Yesterday, the US also imposed new sanctions on two Lebanese politicians close to Hezbollah: Youssef Fenianos, a Christian former Public Works Minister and Ali Hassan Khalil, a Shia former Treasury Minister.

Today’s incident sparked many hasty comments. “They are destroying the evidence, of course,” said a 40-year-old man who decided to close his shop, expecting the worst.

Everyone, in terror, expects another explosion. The Red Cross has warned the population to be vigilant.

The memory of the ill-fated 4 August is still fresh in people’s minds. A fire with a column of smoke was followed by a second one in the shape of a nuclear mushroom, and then a terrifying explosion. After 45 minutes the cloud continued to pollute the sky of the capital.

The Port of Beirut was and continues to be defined by the Lebanese as “the cave of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves”, since it is controlled by all political parties, each taking its own cut.

A few days ago, Ghazi Al Aridi, a former Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said that smuggling, bribes and illegal brokers “deprive the Port of about a billion dollars in revenue per year”.

According to The National newspaper, 70 per cent of dock workers are Shias connected to Amal, the party of Nabih Berri, the speaker of Parliament.

Goldman Sachs estimates that US$ 3 to US$ 5 billion will be needed to rebuild the port. The World Bank estimates are lower, putting the damages at US$ 580 and US$ 710 million dollars.

Many countries, including Kuwait and France, said they were ready to help in the reconstruction. However, the lack of trust in a government accused by many parties of corruption makes it difficult to quickly deliver on projects. – AsiaNews

In order to help the people of Beirut and Lebanon, as well as Caritas Lebanon, AsiaNews is launching a campaign to ‘Help devastated Beirut’. Those who want to contribute can make a donation to:

PIME Foundation:

– International Bank Account Number (IBAN): IT78C0306909606100000169898

– Bank Identifier Code (BIC): BCITITMM

– Reason for transfer: AN04 – HELP DEVASTATED BEIRUT