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Arabs, Britain Ready to Help Lebanon after Beirut Blast

Arabs, Britain Ready to Help Lebanon after Beirut Blast

Saturday, 8 August, 2020 - 10:00
Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit greets Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 8, 2020. (Dalati & Nohra)

Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday he would seek to mobilize Arab efforts to provide support to Lebanon after this week's catastrophic explosion in Beirut destroyed parts of the capital.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he also said the Cairo-based league of Arab states was ready to assist the investigation into the blast.

"We are ready to help with all our means," he said, adding that he would take part in an international conference call to be organized by France on Sunday to discuss aid for Lebanon.

Also speaking after meeting Aoun, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said his country is ready to help rebuild the port.

Turkey's Mersin port, on the Mediterranean, is ready to help Lebanon with customs clearance and warehousing services of large shipments until the Beirut Port is reconstructed, he added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Aoun on Saturday discussed Lebanon’s urgent humanitarian, medical and reconstruction needs following the Beirut port.

“President Aoun thanked the UK for the support provided to date, including the release of 5 million pounds ($6.5 million) in emergency funding and deployment of HMS Enterprise,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.

“With Lebanon facing threats from a financial crisis, coronavirus and the effects of this tragic blast, they agreed to work with international partners to ensure the country’s long-term recovery and rehabilitation.”

The explosion killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes. The blast occurred at a port warehouse containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and explosives.

The disaster struck as Lebanon is struggling with a deep economic crisis.

The president and prime minister of Lebanon have promised that a government investigation would net the culprits but, more than a mere case of negligence, many Lebanese see the blast as a direct result of their leaders' corruption.

"After three days of cleaning, removing rubble and licking our wounds... it is time to let our anger explode and punish them," said Fares Halabi, a 28-year-old activist planned to join a protest scheduled for the afternoon.

However, some of Lebanon's leaders seemed to consider the outpouring of international solidarity as an opportunity to break the government's diplomatic isolation.

A virtual international donor conference launched by Macron, and in which US President Donald Trump and other top leaders will take part, is scheduled for Sunday.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt earlier this year and the current leadership has so far consistently failed to address the economic emergency and agree on an international rescue package despite intense Western pressure.

Speaking on Friday evening, Aoun said "the explosion has led to the lifting of the isolation."

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also said the disaster had created "an opportunity" to get the world to work with Lebanon again.

Analyst Nasser Yassin of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said Lebanon's reviled leaders were clearly seeking to take advantage of the situation.

"The fear is that the authorities will benefit from this great disaster and from the international and Arab attention they are getting," he said.

Activist Hayat Nazer said the current crisis should not turn into a chance for the political elite to get a new lease of life but instead give fresh impetus to a drive for change.

"I think it's the last wake-up call for people," she said.

"We need to save each other, we need to clean our country, to rebuild it, and to completely disregard that we have politicians," Nazer said.

"It's not just about protesting in the streets. We can make a change on a daily basis, the revolution is part of our lives, we can apply it every day."

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