Israel offers aid to Lebanon after catastrophic blast in Beirut

The gesture was made following the explosion that killed over 100 people and devastated many areas of the Lebanese capital

A mushroom cloud rises following the explosion in Beirut. Photo: Reuters

In the aftermath of the enormous explosion and shockwave that tore through Beirut early Tuesday evening, killing over 100 people and leaving many areas of the city in ruin, Israel offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, a neighboring country with which it has no diplomatic relations. 

According to reports in the Israeli media, the aid was offered on the instructions of Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi via the UNIFIL peacekeeping force, the UN and France. A number of other countries have also offered assistance. 

In a Twitter posting, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, head of the Arab media division of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, said that Israel has significant experience responding to disasters and has sent humanitarian delegations to various areas around the world. "This is the time to put all the disputes aside," he said.  

Despite Lebanon's immediate need for assistance, it seems unlikely to accept Israel's offer. 

As of early Wednesday afternoon, there were over 100 confirmed dead and 4,000 wounded from the blast, with the death toll expected to rise as more victims are pulled from the rubble. 

Numerous videos posted to social media showed the incident that occurred at about 6pm local time. An initial explosion was followed shortly afterwards by the massive blast that sent a red mushroom cloud into the air. It also unleashed a shockwave that some commentators compared to the kind generated by a small nuclear weapon.

The blast was so strong that it was felt in Cyprus, over 200 km away. Videos taken in the Lebanese capital after the blast showed chaos and destruction in the streets. 

Senior Lebanese officials admitted that almost 2,800 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored in a warehouse at the port without proper safety measures. The material was said to have been confiscated in 2013 from a ship that arrived at the port.  

The exact circumstances of the incident remain uncertain. Some Lebanese TV reports said a fire at a fireworks warehouse spread to adjacent warehouses, including the one where the ammonium nitrate was stored.  

A report by Israel's Channel 12 News said intelligence officials have been watching the port area for years. It noted that in October 2018 Israel revealed that the port was one of several sites in Beirut where Hezbollah was building precision missiles. The terrorist organization is said to have removed the weapons soon after the disclosure.

Even before Tuesday's incident, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The incident is also said to have increased fears of widespread food insecurity as Lebanon imports most of its food. A Lebanese official was quoted by the BBC as saying that all of the grain stored at the port is gone, and the port itself "is no more".

A video of the enormous explosion can be viewed on Israel Defense's Twitter page.   

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