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Beirut explosion: Arab League and Turkey offer help to Lebanon as death toll mounts

Official statement puts death toll from Tuesday blast at 154 with more than 60 people still missing
Members of the Lebanese civil defence use a dog to search for victims and survivors under the rubble of a building in the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood (AFP)

The Arab League and Turkey have both announced they are ready to mobilise their resources to help Lebanon in the wake of Tuesday's devastating explosion, as the death toll from the blast continued to mount.

Speaking after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the body was also 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 organised by France on Sunday to discuss aid for Lebanon.

During a visit to Lebanon on Saturday, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said his country would also be on hand to help rebuild the port of Beirut, an important lifeline for the Lebanese economy which was obliterated by a massive blast blamed on the ignition of around 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left sitting for six years.

Turkey's port of Mersin, on the Mediterranean, is ready to assist the port of Beirut, he said, without elaborating.

The death toll from Tuesday's port explosion stands at 154, according to an official estimate on Friday, but is expected to rise further, with more than 5,000 people injured, some seriously.

On Saturday, the Dutch foreign ministry said the wife of the Dutch ambassador to Lebanon had died from wounds sustained in the blast.

Hedwig Waltmans-Molier, 55, was injured by the explosion as she stood next to her husband, Ambassador Jan Waltmans, in the living room of their house in Beirut, the ministry said.

More than 60 people are still missing, a health ministry official said Saturday.

"The number of dead is 154, including 25 who have not yet been identified," the official told AFP. "In addition, we have more than 60 people still missing."

The health minister said on Friday that at least 120 of the 5,000 people who were injured on Tuesday are in critical condition.

International donor conference

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.

An aerial view taken on August 7, 2020, shows a partial view of the port of Beirut, the damaged grain silo and the crater caused by the colossal explosion (AFP)
An aerial view taken on 7 August 2020, shows a partial view of the port of Beirut, the damaged grain silo and the crater caused by the colossal explosion (AFP)

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.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, was also among those in Beirut on Saturday in a show of solidarity with the disaster-hit city, where 300,000 people were made temporarily homeless by the port explosion.

Protests planned

The city was also bracing for protests on Saturday, as grief spilled over into rage at a political class that many hold responsible for the destruction.

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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 planning to join a protest scheduled for the afternoon, speaking to AFP.

Some protesters erected a mock gallows for Lebanon's top politicians on Martyrs' Square, the epicentre of a protest movement that started late last year and has continued, after briefly rattling the country's hereditary ruling class and prompting a government shake-up, with Hassan Diab taking over as prime minister in January this year.