A massive explosion at Lebanon’s main port rocked Beirut and its suburbs, injuring hundreds and blowing out windows across the capital. Authorities said the blast was caused by flammable materials at the port, but didn’t immediately announce whether it was an accident or some kind of attack.
Footage showed what appeared to be a fire, followed by crackling lights and then a larger explosion as an enormous cloud of smoke engulfed the area around the Port of Beirut. It caused severe damage to buildings and shops in the area, including the home of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Abbas Ibrahim, head of the country’s General Security, said the explosion wasn’t due to fireworks, as reported earlier by local media. People were seen rushing on foot and motorbikes, some with blood streaming over their faces, outside a Beirut hospital as medical staff tried to admit more severe cases. One hospital said it had taken in 400 people, according to LBCI TV.
Lebanon is undergoing its worst political and financial crisis in decades. The country’s foreign minister resigned on Monday, warning that conflicting interests threatened to turn the country into “a failed state.”
The government, backed by the militant Hezbollah group and its allies, has struggled to carry out reforms demanded by the international community as the price of a bailout. Talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion loan have stalled, and the government has appealed for aid from Gulf countries — primarily Kuwait, Iraq and Qatar.
The onetime benefactors have been wary about channeling funds into Lebanon as they’d done in the past, especially given Iran-backed Hezbollah’s growing influence in the country and its formal role in the government. Hezbollah is classified by Gulf states and the U.S. as a terrorist group.
Hezbollah and Israel have also faced off in recent days traded blows in recent days after an alleged Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. An Israeli official told Bloomberg that Israel had no connection to the blast.
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