In blast-hit Lebanon, Macron says he wants to coordinate international relief
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In blast-hit Lebanon, Macron says he wants to coordinate international relief

French president visits capital devastated by port warehouse blast, urges government reforms to prevent country from continuing ‘to sink’

French President Emmanuel Macron chats with people as he visits Beirut's Gemmayzeh neighborhood which has suffered extensive damage due to a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital, on August, 6. 2020 (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron chats with people as he visits Beirut's Gemmayzeh neighborhood which has suffered extensive damage due to a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital, on August, 6. 2020 (AFP)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he wanted to coordinate international assistance to Lebanon, where he arrived two days after a deadly blast ravaged entire neighborhoods of Beirut.

“I want to organize European cooperation and, more broadly, international cooperation,” he said upon arrival in Beirut, where he will stay just a few hours to survey the site of the explosion and meet the country’s top officials.

The blast Tuesday, which appeared to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate at the coastal city’s port, rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and causing widespread destruction.

Macron was met off the plane by his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Aoun, after the disaster that shook a country already battling runaway inflation, mass unemployment and rising poverty.

Lebanon will “continue to sink” without reforms, Macron warned.

A Lebanese youth hugs French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Beirut’s Gemmayzeh neighborhood, which has suffered extensive damage due to a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital, on August 6, 2020. (AFP)

Later in the day, Macron will head to the presidential palace for meetings with top officials. He will also meet with members of different political factions and civil society.

A French presidential official said Macron’s trip is meant to show that Lebanon is not alone and to give the Lebanese people confidence. Macron has said his role is to show that he believes in the country.

Paris wasted no time in dispatching two planeloads of specialists, rescue workers and supplies to Beirut on Wednesday as its prosecutors also opened a probe into the blast over injuries inflicted on 24 French citizens.

Flights carrying medical aid, field hospitals, rescue experts and tracking dogs have been flying into Beirut airport from assisting countries since Wednesday.

The European Union was activating its civil protection system to round up emergency workers and equipment from across the 27-nation bloc. The EU commission said the plan was to urgently dispatch over 100 firefighters with vehicles, sniffer dogs and equipment designed to find people trapped in urban areas.

The Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands were taking part in the effort, with other countries expected to join. The EU’s satellite mapping system will be used to help Lebanese authorities establish the extent of damage.

Cyprus, where Tuesday’s blast was felt approximately 120 miles (180 kilometers) from Beirut, was sending in emergency personnel and sniffer dogs. Britain promised a $6.6 million humanitarian support package.

Russia flew in a mobile hospital, along with 50 emergency workers and medical personnel. Another three Russian flights were scheduled to arrive within the next 24 hours, carrying equipment for a coronavirus testing lab and protective gear, among other relief supplies.

A Lebanese man carries his belongings as he leaves his destroyed house near the scene where an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, seen on August 6, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Thursday that his country pledged an initial 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4 million) to the relief effort and is considering more.

He said the aid will be provided to the World Food Program and to the Red Cross for food, medical care and essential items.

Help also was coming from closer to home. Iraq was sending six trucks of medical supplies and an emergency medical team to help bolster Lebanon’s overstretched health system, and Egypt and Jordan were supplying field hospitals.

Tunisia was sending medical teams, and offered to bring 100 patients back for treatment in Tunisia.

Britain is sending a Royal Navy ship to Beirut to help the city recover from Tuesday’s devastating port explosion. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Thursday the survey vessel HMS Enterprise, currently in Cyprus, will assess damage and help Lebanese authorities prepare to rebuild the port.

Britain has pledged a 5 million pound ($6.6 million) humanitarian support package for Lebanon and says it will send search and rescue teams and expert medical support.

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