08/16/2021, 14.54
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New explosion in Tleil intensifies the Lebanese tragedy

by Fady Noun

The latest death toll stands at least 28 dead and 80 injured, plus dozens of missing. An illegal fuel tank burst into flames, an event that brings back memory of the tragedy of the port of Beirut. The incident has sparked popular protests. The parties linked to Hariri and President Aoun blame each other, while many call for the latter’s resignation.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Pushed to the limit by record-breaking bad governance, lacking everything and affected by a shortage of petrol and fuel that is paralysing both hospitals and doctors, the Lebanese woke up on Sunday to a new tragedy.

An illegal fuel tank stored in a warehouse caught fire and exploded killing 28 people in a pool of petrol on fire in the village of Tleil (northern Lebanon); at least 80 other people were hospitalised with severe burns. 

The incident highlights the level of incompetence and insensitivity by those in power in Lebanon, driven by personal and clientelist interests. A day of national mourning was officially proclaimed after the tragedy.

This incident reminded people of the catastrophic explosion that devastated the port and part of Beirut on 4 August 2020, which killed more than 200 people and led to the resignation of the government. A year later, the latter has not yet been replaced.

The explosion also triggered a wave of anger, which still cannot be measured, in a population that can no longer accept leaders who continue to procrastinate to form a government.

Meanwhile, everything is in short supplies: food, medicine, work, fuel, dignity and access to savings, which a cunning and ruthless banking system controls, while accusing government authorities and the central bank of the deed. The incredible negligence by public authorities and the military is to blame for the situation.

In a country angered by the lack of petrol and fuel, the tug-of-war between the central bank, political authorities and importers has placed their importation and sale under contradictory conditions. The discovery in Tleil of a private warehouse with illegal tanks served as a spark. 

The incredible negligence by public authorities and the military is to blame for the situation. Following orders, the military seized part of it for its own needs, then left the warehouse to be looted by a crowd deprived of everything, attracted by the windfall.

Was it the deliberate act by the son of the owner of the warehouse, who used a firearm, or an accident due to the disorderly rush for the petrol? The circumstances of the tragedy have still not been clarified, although many witnesses claim that the tank fire was caused by spite.

The fact remains that at around 2 am, the petrol tank blast plunged the country into mourning. The military announced that it had arrested the owner of the warehouse, accused by residents of storing petrol to resell at a higher price or smuggle it into Syria.

In the early morning, three hospitals in Akkar, Tripoli and Beirut equipped to receive burn victims were invaded by the wounded and relatives of the victims, some in search of those missing.

“The corpses are so charred that we can't identify them,” a nurse said, quoted by AFP. “Some have lost their faces, others their arms.” Because a number of people are "missing", DNA testing has begun.

Enraged by the tragedy, young people from Tleil the morning after set fire to the villa of the owner of warehouse in which the illegal fuel tank was storied, blocking the path to the Civil Defence fire lorries that had come to put out the fire.

The tragedy also triggered a virulent clash between Saad Hariri's Future Movement and President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Current (CPL), who was urged to resign.

In the evening, violent clashes broke out between protesters and security forces, near the Beirut home of Prime Minister-designate Nagib Mikati, while the flats of two lawmakers from northern Lebanon were besieged, with one vandalised.

Will this tragedy hasten the formation of a new government, and the start of the reforms needed for international aid to rescue the economy, at a time when the national currency has lost 90 per cent of its value? This remains to be seen.

The state of disorganisation of the government is such that the medical association and the company that maintains mobile phone services indicated that they lack fuel for their members and employees to travel.

On Sunday evening, a Turkish plane landed at Beirut airport to pick up four severely burnt soldiers, Lebanon’s National Information Agency reported. 

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said he was in contact with Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan to transfer burn victims. Egypt has announced that it is sending a cargo ship of specialised medicines for burn victims, which are in short supply in hospitals.

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