The death toll of August 4 devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has exceeded 200, according to officials.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said dozens were still missing, many of them foreign workers.
On August 9, there was a second night of violence in Beirut, as police clashed with protesters angry with the government’s response to the disaster.
The resignation of three members of the cabinet, including the justice minister on August 10, has not quelled the fury.
Fresh protests have been called for August 10 when PM Hassan Diab is due to chair a cabinet meeting.
PM Diab has said the blast was the result of the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely at Beirut’s port for six years.
The decision to keep so much hazardous material in a warehouse near the city center has been met with disbelief by many Lebanese, who have long accused the political elite of corruption, neglect and mismanagement.
Marwan Abboud was quoted by the al-Marsad Online news website as saying the death toll from the explosion had risen to 220, and that 110 people remained missing.
The governor told the Al Jadeed TV channel that many foreign workers and lorry drivers were among the missing, which he said had made identifying them more difficult.
The Lebanese army, meanwhile, said it was calling off the rescue phase of the search operation at the port because no survivors had been found.
Elsewhere in Beirut, hundreds of thousands of people are living in severely damaged homes, many without windows or doors.
Officials have estimated that the explosion caused more than $3 billion of damage and that Lebanon’s collective economic losses may amount to $15 billion.
Lebanon was already suffering a major economic downturn before the explosion, with families pushed into poverty and hunger, and UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis unless food and medical aid are delivered swiftly.
International donors pledged $297 million in aid for Lebanon at a virtual summit on August 9 hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
A joint statement underscored their concerns about corruption, saying that the assistance should be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency”.
The donors said further assistance was dependent on Lebanese authorities fully committing to “timely measures and reforms expected by the Lebanese people”.
No details of the alleged plot against Saad al-Hariri have been made public.
Uncertainty surrounds Saad al-Hariri’s circumstances, amid rumors he was being held in Riyadh.
President Macron said on November 9 he had had informal contact with Saad al-Hariri, without giving details, while the French foreign minister said France believed Saad al-Hariri was able to move freely.
On November 5, Saad al-Hariri said in a TV broadcast that he was resigning because of the unspecified threat to his life.
In the video statement, Saad al-Hariri also attacked Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily powerful in Lebanon, and Iran.
There are fears Lebanon could become embroiled in a wider regional confrontation between major Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran.
President Macron is a keen supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which both the Saudis and the Trump administration have heavily criticized.
Before going to Saudi Arabia, Emmanuel Macron said that he had heard “very harsh opinions” on Iran from Saudi Arabia, which did not match his own view.
“It is important to speak with everyone,” the president added.
However, an official communiqué from his office following the visit did not say Iran was among the matters discussed, Le Monde reported.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon have soared since Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation.
On November 9, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies told their citizens in Lebanon to leave the country immediately. The move came after Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “direct military aggression”, saying it supplied a missile which it says was fired by Hezbollah at Riyadh from Yemen on November 5.
Iran has dismissed Saudi Arabia’s allegations as “false and dangerous”.
Prince Abdel Mohsen Bin Walid Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and four other people have been arrested in Lebanon in the largest drug seizure in the history of Beirut airport, a security source has said.
The prince was among those detained by airport security while allegedly “attempting to smuggle about two tonnes of Captagon pills and some cocaine,” the security source said.
“The smuggling operation is the largest one that has been foiled through the Beirut International Airport,” the source told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
Captagon is the brand name for the amphetamine phenethylline, a synthetic stimulant.
Manufacturing of the substance thrives in Lebanon and war-torn Syria, which have become a gateway for the drug to the Middle East and particularly the Gulf.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime said in a 2014 report that the amphetamine market is on the rise in the Middle East, with seizures mostly in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria accounting for more than 55% of amphetamines recovered worldwide.
The security source said the drugs had been packed into cases that were waiting to be loaded onto a private plane that was headed to Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon’s state news agency said the private plane was to head to Riyadh and was carrying 40 suitcases full of Captagon.
The five Saudi citizens were still in the airport and will be questioned by Lebanon’s customs authority, the source added.
Lebanon has imposed stricter conditions for Syrians entering the country in a bid to slow the flow of asylum seekers trying to escape the war.
Previously, travel between Syria and Lebanon was largely unrestricted, but now Syrians will have to obtain a visa.
Lebanon hosts more than a million Syrian refugees and this is the latest step to try to stem the influx.
Millions of Syrians have been displaced by the civil war as rebel forces try to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
The uprising began with protests against Bashar al-Assad’s rule in 2011 and degenerated into civil war in 2012. The rise of Islamist groups has added to the refugee problem.
Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, is one of the most affected country by the large numbers of refugees.
Before now, Syrians could stay in Lebanon for up to six months automatically. Under the new measure, Syrians wanting to enter Lebanon will have to fulfill certain criteria in order to be granted a visa at the border.
It is unclear what the rule will mean for the many Syrians already in the country and not registered as refugees.
Every Syrian wanting to enter Lebanon will need to state a clear purpose for their visit, and, if approved, a visa will be issued for a certain duration.
Syrians coming to work in Lebanon will also have to be sponsored by a Lebanese individual or company.
A spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Ron Redmond, said that over the past 6 to 8 months a number of measures had already reduced the number of people seeking registration as refugees. But the UN had worked out a system with the government to enable the most vulnerable to still gain access.
Lebanon has long been struggling to cope with the number of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
There are currently more than 1.1 million registered refugees in Lebanon putting a huge strain on the country’s infrastructure and resources.
The Lebanese government says the actual number of refugees in the country is about 1.6 million.
Clearly the Lebanese government wants to reduce the flow, says Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut.
Many refugees live in poor conditions.
In October, Lebanon’s social affairs minister announced that the country would stop accepting all refugees except emergency cases, but would still allow Syrians to enter for other purposes, such as work and tourism.
The latest UNHCR figures show a total of 3.2 million Syrians registered as refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere.
A car bomb hit a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut killing at least 5 people and injuring other 20, media and officials say.
The suburb is a stronghold of the Shia militant group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV station said the blast destroyed part of a facade of a building in a densely populated area of Haret Hreik district.
Beirut has been recently been hit by attacks linked to heightened Sunni-Shia tensions over the Syrian war.
Beirut has been recently been hit by attacks linked to heightened Sunni-Shia tensions over the Syrian war
Former minister Mohamad Chatah, a Sunni and a critic of Hezbollah, was killed by a car bomb last Friday. Six other people died and at least 50 were injured.
Former PM Saad Hariri, to whom Mohamad Chatah was an adviser, blamed Hezbollah for that attack but it has denied any involvement.
No-one has yet said they carried out the attack, but it came a day after Majid al-Majid, the head of a Sunni jihadist group which claimed a suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut in November, was reportedly arrested.
Al-Manar TV showed large crowds gathered around twisted and burnt-out vehicles in front of a building that had been badly damaged in Thursday’s blast.
Initial reports say the bomb was detonated in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The street is home to shops, restaurants and residential buildings. The TV said the explosion took place a few hundred metres from the nearest Hezbollah political offices.
Majid al-Majid, the Saudi “emir” of the al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, had said that attacks would continue in Lebanon until Iranian and Hezbollah forces stopped fighting alongside government forces in Syria.
Lebanon has reportedly arrested Majid al-Majid, the head of a jihadist group that claimed the suicide bomb attack on Iran’s embassy in November.
Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn told AFP that Majid al-Majid, the Saudi “emir” of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was being held by Lebanese army intelligence in Beirut.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar television also said Majid al-Majid was detained “recently”.
Majid al-Majid, head of al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was being held by Lebanese army intelligence in Beirut
The embassy attack killed 23 people, including the Iranian cultural attaché.
A cleric close to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades warned attacks would continue in Lebanon until Hezbollah forces stopped fighting alongside government forces in Syria and its prisoners were released in Lebanon.
Wednesday’s reports did not say when Majid al-Majid was captured.
Al-Manar cited Lebanese security sources as saying that two attacks on army checkpoints outside the southern city of Sidon on December 15 had been attempts to free him.
A soldier and four gunmen were killed in the ensuing clashes in the suburb of Majdelyoun, for which there was no claim of responsibility.
Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon have been hit by a fierce winter storm, the UN say.
There has been snow, rain, high winds and freezing temperatures in the north of the country and the Bekaa Valley, home to more than 200 informal camps.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was “working harder than ever” to protect the more than 800,000 Syrians sheltering in Lebanon.
The Lebanese army is helping distribute emergency kits, including blankets.
“We are worried, because it is really cold in the Bekaa region, and we’re extremely worried about the refugees living in makeshift shelters, because many are really substandard,” UNHCR spokeswomen Lisa Abou Khaled told the AFP news agency.
At least 80,000 refugees will have to spend the winter in tents. Many others are living in unfinished or unheated buildings with only slightly more protection.
Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon have been hit by a fierce winter storm
Lisa Abou Khaled said the UNHCR had stockpiles of items to help refugees whose shelters might be damaged or destroyed, including plastic sheeting, floor mats, blankets and mattresses. Supplies have also been given to local councils.
“The Syrian refugees here are shivering with cold, especially the ones in tents,” said Wafiq Khalaf, a councilor in Arsal, a town in the northern Bekaa Valley that has seen 20,000 people arrive in the past few months.
“Water has come into the tents from the roofs, and from the ground where there is flooding,” he told AFP.
“At the moment there is more than 10cm [3.9in] of snow on the ground, but more is expected.”
Forecasters are predicting between 7.6cm and 13cm of snow in total.
The latest warning comes after the UNHCR announced on Tuesday that it would be airlifting food and other aid items into northern Syria from Iraq for the first time.
Twelve planeloads of supplies will be flown in over the next few days, ahead of what the UN fears will be the region’s harshest winter in a century.
The decision was made after land convoys were shot at, harassed, and detained at check points, officials said.
Almost 2.3 million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the UN. There are also an estimated 6.5 million internelly displaced people (IDP’s) inside Syria, and many more in need of aid.
Nine Lebanese Shia pilgrims kidnapped by Syrian rebels in May 2012 have been released and arrived back in Beirut.
There were jubilant scenes as they were greeted on the tarmac by family members and Lebanese politicians.
Two Turkish pilots who were being held hostage in Lebanon were also freed as part of a complex swap.
Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca were seized in Beirut in August in a retaliatory abduction.
They were met by their relatives and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan after flying to Istanbul on a Qatari jet late on Saturday.
A third part of the hostage negotiations – reportedly mediated by Qatar, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority – involved the release of a number of female prisoners being held by the Syrian government.
Nine Lebanese Shia pilgrims kidnapped by Syrian rebels in May 2012 have been released and arrived back in Beirut
It is not yet clear whether that has taken place.
The Lebanese group, all men, were released by their captors on Friday evening and driven to Istanbul, from where they flew to Beirut.
At the airport they were greeted by friends and family, as well as politicians and religious leaders.
The men appeared tired but in good health.
The nine Lebanese were among 11 people seized while making their way back to Lebanon after a tour of holy sites in Iran. Two of them escaped.
They were reportedly being held in northern Syria by fighters from a Sunni-based rebel group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
The rebels insisted their hostages were fighters with the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, and were demanding the release of women detainees held by the Syrian regime in exchange.
Then in August, Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca were seized from a bus close to Beirut’s international airport. A previously unknown group called Zuwwar al-Imam Rida said it had kidnapped them, and that they would be freed if the Lebanese group were set free.
It demanded that Turkey used its influence with Syrian rebels to make the swap possible.
Two huge explosions killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400 others in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, health officials say.
The explosions are thought to represent the deadliest attack in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.
As Friday prayers ended, a blast hit the al-Taqwa mosque, which is usually attended by prominent Sunni cleric Sheikh Salem Rafii. He was unharmed.
A second blast five minutes later hit the al-Salam mosque in the Mina area.
War in neighboring Syria has raised sectarian tensions between the city’s Sunni Muslim and Alawite communities.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks and called for calm and restraint.
Sheikh Salem Rafii is one of the most prominent Sunni leaders in Lebanon and is believed to have been a possible target.
He is opposed to Lebanon’s militant Shia Hezbollah group and has previously urged young Lebanese men to join opposition fighters in Syria.
Two huge explosions killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400 others in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli
It is not clear whether he was at the al-Taqwa mosque at the time of the attack, although some reports say he was giving a sermon.
Ambulances rushed to the aftermath of the blasts and heavy black smoke covered the sky.
“It was as if there was an earthquake, the whole city seemed to be shaking,” a local resident told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.
Television pictures showed damaged cars on fire, with their windows smashed, and people running through the streets trying to carry wounded people to safety.
Bodies could be seen on the ground and windows were broken on surrounding apartment blocks.
The preacher at the al-Salam mosque – the site of the second explosion – is also an opponent of the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, Associated Press reports.
No group has taken responsibility for the latest attacks.
In a statement reported by Lebanon’s National News Agency, Hezbollah strongly condemned the blasts.
The group said the attacks aimed to “sow seeds of strife among the Lebanese and drag them into bickering under a sectarian guise”.
Outgoing Lebanese PM Najib Mikati and President Michel Suleiman have also condemned the attacks, calling on citizens to unite against violence.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The secretary-general calls on all Lebanese to exercise restraint, to remain united, and to support their state institutions… in maintaining calm and order in Tripoli and throughout the country, and in preventing the recurrence of such destructive actions.”
Tripoli, a city of nearly 200,000 people and Lebanon’s second largest, is one of the country’s most volatile sectarian fault lines, with a small Alawite population living in the midst of a Sunni majority.
The Alawite community tends to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Sunnis mostly backing the rebels fighting him.
The bombs come a week after a massive car bomb rocked a Shia district of Beirut, leaving 27 people dead. The area hit contained Hezbollah strongholds.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon amid signs that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into its western neighbor.
The four Arab states urged immediate action after a string of kidnappings of Sunni Muslims by a powerful Shia clan.
They were retaliating for the abduction of a clan member by rebels in Damascus.
Meanwhile, a summit of Islamic countries meeting in Mecca has suspended Syria’s membership.
The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation’s secretary-general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, said the body had no room for a regime that kills its own people.
Correspondents say the move further isolates President Bashar al-Assad after the Arab League suspended Syria last November.
Lebanese citizens were further caught up in the Syrian crisis on Wednesday when warplanes struck the town of Azaz north of Aleppo, reportedly killing 30 people.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon amid signs that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into its western neighbor
Among those reported wounded in the attack close to Syria’s border with Turkey were seven Lebanese hostages held by the rebels since May. Four more hostages were said to be missing after the building they were in was hit.
After unconfirmed TV reports that the four had died, rioters were said to have burned tyres on the main road to Beirut airport and an Air France flight switched routes to Jordan “for security reasons”.
The al-Meqdad clan said it had abducted more than 20 people it claimed were connected to Syrian rebels. A video broadcast by a pro-Syrian TV channel showed what it said were two of the men, apparently including a Free Syrian Army captain.
Although most of the men abducted were Syrians, a Turkish businessman and a Saudi national were also reported to be among those seized.
Syrian rebels say the man they seized in Damascus was fighting for the Syrian government on behalf of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement.
A video of Hassan Salim al-Meqdad was released by his captors on Tuesday in which the captive, surrounded by three masked gunmen, says he was one of 1,500 Hezbollah fighters who arrived in Syria in early August. The statement was dismissed by his family – the al-Meqdad clan – as a lie.
The clan, who are thought to be heavily involved in smuggling, have been described as a family with a military wing.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are all Sunni Muslim countries that support the Syrian rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad.
As the al-Meqdads threatened to carry out further abductions, the official Saudi news agency Spa quoted a foreign ministry official as saying Saudi citizens should avoid “travelling to Lebanon for their own safety”.
A UAE foreign ministry official said it issued its alert after the embassy “received information about UAE nationals being targeted and because of the difficult and sensitive circumstances in Lebanon”, state news agency Wam reported.
Lebanon is a popular tourist destination for Saudis and citizens of other Gulf states.
The abductions were condemned by Lebanese Prime Minister Nagib Mikati and President Michel Suleiman.
“Spreading chaos in the country will not bring about the liberation of hostages. On the contrary, chaos could cause [the hostages] harm and threatens the sovereignty of the state,” the president said.
Like Syria’s other neighbors – Turkey, Iraq and Jordan – Lebanon has absorbed thousands of refugees fleeing from the conflict.
But unlike the other countries, Lebanon risks being plunged into sectarian strife, possibly even a return to civil war, by the strains inflicted on its own delicate internal situation by the Syrian crisis, correspondents say.
Last week, former information minister Michel Samaha was arrested and accused along with two Syrian military figures of plotting to destabilize Lebanon and incite sectarian fighting.
Tripoli – Lebanon’s second city – has recently witnessed street gun battles between supporters and opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
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