Lebanon judicial probe halted due to challenges

A judicial probe into the deadly blast that rocked Lebanon’s largest port last month has been suspended amid challenges, a Lebanese judge said on Monday. The explosion at the container terminal in Beirut killed four people and wounded at least 50 others.

The investigation was suspended until further notice because the court received several complaints filed by individuals who were exposed to the blast but declined treatment, saying they were healthy,
Judge Saqr Saqr said. The complaints have been submitted to the military prosecutor, he added. According to an initial report, three people died at Bir Hassan following a fire at the warehouse and anther was killed in the ensuing chaos at a hospital.

The blast took place on November 20, when a fire started at a warehouse that contained about 1,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, which is highly combustible and unstable if exposed to heat or shock. The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) would like to express its condolences and sympathy with the bereaved families as well as those injured in the explosion that occurred on 20 November at a warehouse in Beirut’s port area.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been briefed on the incident by his Special Representative for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, and is being kept updated as the situation develops.

UNSCOL, with the support of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), immediately provided a Technical Response Team to evaluate and coordinate the necessary humanitarian and civil works response in accordance with its mandate and role as co-chair of the National Steering Committee for Emergencies together with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities since the blast has affected the infrastructure in the port area.

The assessment and coordination with relevant national authorities (municipalities, water authority, electrical company, environmental agency) is ongoing. The Office for Project Services (UNOPS), in collaboration with international partners is continuing to support the authorities and the different ministries involved in this work.

UNSCOL has been in close contact with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN agencies present in Lebanon to provide overall coordination and facilitation.

As a result of the incident, there is an urgent need for humanitarian assistance including medical care and psychosocial support to those affected by this tragic incident; as well as immediate action on the ground to support the environmental and public health aspects of the response.

Medical teams are already on site assessing needs, decontaminating people exposed to chemicals or other potentially dangerous materials, and providing first aid treatment. UNOPS is also coordinating other civil-society organisations to provide further supplies locally.

UNHCR has reported that some Syrians were among the casualties including the fatalities. The exact number of victims who are refugees is not known yet, but UNHCR staff at Beirut airport saw several injured Syrians being transported to hospital by medics. UNHCR is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that the victims receive adequate care and dignified treatment.