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Beirut’s port finally opens again for aid shipments

The Port of Beirut has re-opened for aid shipments over three weeks after a haul of abandoned ammonium nitrate in storage blew up a warehouse causing a cataclysmic explosion that killed 171 people. 

In aerial photographs released today, aid ships can be seen moored off Beirut’s flattened port. The blast, which took place on August 4, killed 171 people, injured thousands and left countless others homeless.  

In other images taken from above the decimated trading point today, the colossal damage inflicted on the port is clearly visible, with dust and debris covering the remnants of ships and buildings.  

In one photograph, an overturned cruiseliner can be seen laying on its side just metres from the shore. Another shows an aerial view of a stripped ship covered in dust.    

A U.S. government assessment of the devastating explosion, reported on 15 August, concluded that maintenance work likely led to the explosion of the large cache of ammonium nitrate. 

It came amid speculation over what could have triggered the deadly chemical blast.

Last week, security sources claimed a welder had sparked the initial fire that in turn ignited the chemicals.

The explosion, Lebanon’s worst peacetime disaster, caused devastation across Beirut and is widely seen as a direct consequence of state incompetence and corruption.  

A source familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal that maintenance work likely sparked the explosion which devastated much of the Lebanese capital, claiming investigators found ‘no evidence of an attack or foul play’. 

They added that maintenance work ‘set fire to other unspecified materials stored at the port, which then ignited the chemical stockpile’.

The FBI has joined an international investigation effort led by France. But the initial US findings match those of the Lebanese military, which has been accused of ignoring warnings and allowing the nitrate to sit in a dockside warehouse for six years.

The blast occurred when a warehouse fire ignited 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had been stored in the city’s port for six years. 

The explosion, which drew comparisons with the Hiroshima atom bomb 75 years ago, has also injured more than 6,000 people and left 300,000 homeless. 

Ten firefighters are confirmed to have died in the incident, and six more are still among the missing, including three members of the same family. 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government resigned on Monday but that did little to appease protesters who want heads to roll over the disaster.

Documents seen by AFP reveal that relevant officials at every echelon of the state were aware of the danger posed by the large pile of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a port warehouse until it blew up.

The disaster also sparked widespread panic over wheat shortages after 15,000 tonnes of grains were blasted out of the silos.  

The cabinet decided to refer the investigation of the blast to the judicial council, the highest legal authority whose rulings cannot be appealed. 

Lebanon’s president had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. 

He said an investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident. 

‘There are two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb,’ he said last Friday. 

The shipment of ammonium nitrate was officially destined for Mozambique when it sailed on the cargo ship Rhosus in 2013, but the vessel made an unscheduled stop in Beirut where the chemicals were impounded.   

The captain of the Rhosus claims he was told to stop in Beirut to pick up extra cargo – while Mozambique has denied all knowledge of the shipment. 

Cypriot police said on Thursday that they had questioned Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin over his alleged links the ship and its cargo.

Beirut’s governor said many foreign workers and truck drivers remained missing and were assumed to be among the casualties. 

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