Smoke is still rising from the blast site in the Port of Beirut and the effects are still being felt. Two explosions at the port on Tuesday resulted in at least 158 deaths, 6,000 injuries, $10–15 billion in property damage and an estimated 300,000 people made homeless. Less than one hour after the blast, Hezbollah announced it was dues top 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that had been stored in a portside warehouse for over six years but experts are questioning that as being inconsistent with the nature of the blast and with other facts of the event.
The Lebanese government declared a two-week state of emergency but the country was in the throes of economic crisis even before the blast with he government defaulting on debt, the pound plunging, and a poverty rate that had risen past 50%. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had overwhelmed many of the country’s hospitals. To make matters worse, destroyed grain silos at the port had contained up to 85% of the wheat in the city.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar questioned the explanation given by Hezbollah, suggesting that a more likely explanation was that Hezbollah was using the port to store rockets, explosives, and rocket fuel. A prominent Lebanese journalist also came out this week with the same accusation. In a tragic case of foreshadowing, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a press conference in which he identified the precise warehouse as a Hezbollah storage facility. Netanyahu cautioned Lebanese civilians of being used as “human shields.”
Nasrallah responded to these accusations in a televised address on Friday.
“We know more about the port of Haifa than the port of Beirut,” Nasrallah said in a veiled threat. “We talk about resistance, we are thinking of a strategy of defending Lebanon, we did not intervene in Lebanese affairs.”
“We have no rockets or explosives there, nor has there been in the past. We have nothing there: no missiles, no ammunition, no weapons, no ammonium nitrate, not even a rifle.” He added that “any claims that Hezbollah runs Beirut Port are lies.”
Hezbollah, literally “Party of Allah” or “Party of God” is a Shia Islamist terrorist group that has more than one-third of the seats in the Lebanese parliament, giving them veto power. Hezbollah is dedicated to the submission of the Christian Phalangists and is anti-Israel. Its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army and fought a war against Israel in 2006. Hezbollah is estimated to have up to 150,000 rockets with their primary intended target being Israel.
The Lebanese people seemed inclined to agree that Hezbollah was to blame. On Saturday, at a heated protest in front of the Lebanese foreign ministry hung several of their politicians in effigy, including President Michel Aoun and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah.
مشانق رمزية معلقة في وسط بيروت تطالب بمحاسبة الطبقة السياسية على جريمة انفجار مرفأ بيروت والقتل والدمار الذي تسببت به … pic.twitter.com/Ti9lV0ig2K
— ديانا مقلد Diana Moukalled (@dianamoukalled) August 8, 2020
In a televised speech Saturday evening, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the only solution was to hold early elections, which he planned to propose in a draft bill. Protesters confronted police at other protests around the city. Tear gas and rubber bullets were reportedly used to subdue the protests. At least 142 people were hurt in the clashes, and 32 of them needed to be taken to the hospital, according to the Red Cross. Lebanon’s police force said an officer was killed during the protest following an assault by “murderous rioters.” By sunset, protesters had taken over the foreign and energy ministries and raided the economy and environment ministries, as well as the headquarters of the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
Absolutely staggering numbers toay in #Beirut. Square split between peaceful on one side and rioting on the other. We’re hearing live fire every now and then. Over 100 injured so far. #LebanonProtests pic.twitter.com/C4cpYhyJIQ
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 8, 2020
Israel announced Tuesday night that it had reached out to offer humanitarian aid to Lebanon but the offered was rejected. Many Lebanese took to Twitter and expressed anger over the flag display in Tel Aviv: “We will light you up with our missiles”, while many others made fun of the gesture under the hashtag ‘we don’t want that’.