Rioters waged routine battles with police and soldiers, who had retreated inside Beirut’s fortified central district, allowing protesters to come closer. They defended their position with tear gas, while hundreds of men threw rubble from the explosion at wrought iron walls. The crowds were determined to enter the compound and attack the legislature, whose members have been universally blamed for the widespread dysfunction that led to the disaster.
Lebanon’s Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad on Sunday resigned in the first resignation of the government since the explosion in the port killed more than 150 people and destroyed parts of the capital, leaving a crater of 43 meters deep.
“After the enormous disaster in Beirut, I am announcing my resignation from the government,” she said in a statement, apologizing to the Lebanese public for her failure.
Three other MPs resigned from parliament on Sunday, the outskirts of which were besieged by protesters just before sunset. Although the many crowds seen in central Beirut on Saturday night subsided, those who arrived on Sunday appeared determined to storm the compound, paving the way for major clashes with security forces.
At least 43 MPs would have to resign for the government to fall. So far nine have done so, and there are indications that many more will follow in the coming week, further loosening the government’s already fragile grip on power.
Meanwhile, in the nearby port, where around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the devastating blast, search and rescue teams have all but given up hope of finding survivors. A French team had attempted to reach an underground area of the control room after indicating that up to seven men were at the site at the time of the explosion and could have survived. The France team leader said five bodies have now been recovered.
“We worked non-stop for 48 hours starting Thursday morning trying to get to this control room. Unfortunately, we did not find a single survivor, ”said Col Vincent Tissier.
A Lebanese military officer who coordinated the rescue efforts at the docks site said: “After three days of search and rescue operations, we can say that we have completed the first phase, which involved the possibility of finding survivors. We can say that our hopes are vanishing. ”
At least 21 people are still missing and 159 have been recorded as killed in what is widely regarded as one of the worst industrial accidents in history. At least 6,000 people were injured.
As recovery efforts continue, residents of Beirut have started to reflect on what the toll could have been without the coronavirus lockdown, which means most bars and cafes have been closed in the Gemmayze neighborhood, normally densely populated, close to ports. “Can you imagine what it might have been like on a normal night, or even two hours earlier when the workers were still in port?” asked Ali Houssein, a driver from southern Lebanon. “I guess we would be talking about thousands of deaths.”
The damage to east and central Beirut was devastating, however, and an online donor conference pledged to fund urgent humanitarian needs.
French President Emmanuel Macron said: “We must all work together so that neither violence nor chaos prevails. The future of Lebanon is at stake. We must act quickly and this aid must go directly to the people who need it on the ground. “
A statement from the conference released on Sunday evening said: “Following the emergency aid, the partners are ready to support Lebanon’s economic and financial recovery, which requires, as part of a stabilization strategy, that the Lebanese authorities are fully committed to taking the timely measures and reforms expected by the Lebanese people.
“In these horrible times, Lebanon is not alone,” the statement said. “Assistance for an impartial, credible and independent investigation into the August 4 explosion is immediately needed and available, at the request of Lebanon.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun had previously described calls for an international investigation as an attempt to “block the investigation”.
The terms of an investigation and who should conduct it are at the heart of political resentment nearly a week after the explosion, with much of the country insisting that any local investigation would be politicized and leaders claiming that a foreign investigation would be an affront to sovereignty.
As recovery attempts continued in the ravaged parts of the capital, the Norwegian Refugee Council said humanitarian funding was needed immediately. “The only thing we must not forget in this response is that many Lebanese and refugees were already on their knees before the explosion,” said Carlo Gherardi, national director of NRC in Lebanon. “They need us the most and they need us now. International donors must honor their commitments and disperse funds immediately – there is no time to waste.
Social and Economic Action for Lebanon, an American organization that helps coordinate fundraising, urged donors and individuals to channel donations through NGO structures.
“The Lebanese government has proven to be incompetent, unreliable and corrupt,” said George Bitar, the group’s chairman. He said NGOs were a more efficient and direct way to get funds into Lebanon, especially amid the financial crisis that limited people’s access to deposits.