The Latest: Australia pledges $1.4M for Beirut relief effort

Cover Image
Photo credit This satellite image taken on Wednesday Aug. 5, 2020 shows the port of Beirut and the surrounding area in Lebanon following a massive explosion on Tuesday. Residents of Beirut confronted a scene of utter devastation a day after a massive explosion at the port rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 100 people, wounding thousands and leaving entire city blocks blanketed with glass and rubble. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the explosion in Beirut (all times local):

6 a.m. Thursday

The Australian government has pledged an initial 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4 million) to the relief effort in Lebanon following the deadly blast that ripped across the capital Beirut.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Thursday that the aid will be provided to the World Food Program and to the Red Cross for food, medical care and essential items.

He says his country is considering another round of support.

Morrison says some Australian Embassy personnel were injured but “they are safe and accounted for and we wish them a speedy recovery.”

He also thanked the U.S. Embassy officials in Beirut for their support.

Tuesday's blast killed 135 people and injured about 5,000 others. Investigators focused on possible negligence in the storage of tons of a highly explosive fertilizer in a waterfront warehouse, while the government ordered the house arrest of several port officials.

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11:30 p.m

Germany has dispatched dozens of search and rescue specialists to Lebanon to help in the race to find survivors trapped beneath rubble following Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut.

About 50 staff of Germany’s THW civil protection organization flew out of Frankfurt late Wednesday with search dogs and 15 tons of equipment to locate people below collapsed buildings.

Timo Eilhardt, THW’s chief of operations, said there is normally a good chance of finding survivors more than 72 hours after a disaster, “which means we can expect to find people for another two to three days.”

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9:25 p.m.

Russia’s Ministry for Emergencies says that its first plane carrying relief teams, doctors and medical equipment has landed in Beirut.

The ministry said Wednesday the aircraft has delivered a mobile hospital along with 50 emergency workers and medical personnel. Another three Russian flights are scheduled to arrive within the next 24 hours. They will carry equipment for a coronavirus testing lab and protective gear, among other relief supplies.

The airlift follows a request for help from the Lebanese authorities faced with the aftermath of the massive explosion that devastated Beirut.

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9:20 p.m.

The United Nations says it is stepping up emergency assistance to Lebanon following the explosion that devastated Beirut and is urging the international community to “stand beside” the Lebanese people who have generously hosted thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees for years.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday that among the thousands injured from the blast at Beirut’s port are over 100 U.N. staff members and dependents, and among the more than 100 dead are two family members of U.N. staffers.

He said 22 members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon were among the injured. One of the U.N. Maritime Task Force ships docked in the port was damaged, leaving naval peacekeepers injured, “some of them seriously,” he said.

“We expect that the damage at the port will significantly exacerbate the economic and food security situation in Lebanon, which imports about 80-85 percent of its food,” Haq said.

The U.N. humanitarian office “also expects that it will affect the U.N.’s ability to provide aid to Syria because the port in Beirut is one of the ways we are shipping aid,” he said.

U.N. peacekeepers and staff in Lebanon are assisting in the emergency response and specialists are en route to support urban search and rescue operations and “to conduct rapid assessments about the situation on the ground and help coordinate emergency response activities,” Haq said.

A top U.N. priority is to support the existing hospitals and trauma response capacity, and the U.N. World Health Organization is working closely with the Lebanese Ministry of Health “to conduct an assessment of hospital facilities in Beirut, their functionality and needs for additional support, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Assessments of humanitarian needs and shelter needs following the explosion are also underway, Haq said.

“The United Nations is looking at all options to find ways to provide financial assistance to support ongoing response efforts,” he said.

Haq said it was too early to say if the U.N. will issue an international appeal to help rebuild Beirut.

“It would seem given the amount of damage that there will be a need for additional international support for Lebanon,” he said, adding that the U.N. is heartened to see support from many governments and hopes all countries will stand beside the Lebanese people at this time.

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9 p.m.

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut says at least one American citizen was killed and several more were injured in Tuesday's massive explosion in Beirut's port.

“We offer our sincerest condolences to their loved ones and are working to provide the affected U.S. citizens and their families all possible consular assistance. We are working closely with local authorities to determine if any additional U.S. citizens were affected," the embassy said in a statement Wednesday.

The embassy says all of its employees are safe and accounted for.

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8:55 p.m.

The World Food Program says it is quickly assessing the situation in Lebanon to be ready to provide emergency support for those who were left “homeless overnight, lost loved ones, were injured or anyone who needs assistance in these difficult times.”

The U.N. humanitarian organization said in a statement Wednesday from its Rome headquarters that the explosion and port damage “will exacerbate the grim economic and food security situation” in Lebanon, noting that the country’s economic crisis was already being compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also expressed concern that the damage to Beirut’s port “would push food prices beyond the reach of many.”

The organization cited a recent World Food Program survey that found that 50% of Lebanese saying over the past month they “felt worried they would not have enough food to eat.”

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8:40 p.m.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro extended his condolences to Lebanon at an event on Wednesday and highlighted that the South American nation is home to millions of Lebanese people. He added his administration intended to provide aid, without specifying how.

“Brazil will do more than a gesture. Something concrete to attend, in part, to those tens of thousands of people who are in a rather complicated situation because, in addition to injuries, many homes were hit,” Bolsonaro said.

On Tuesday, he said on Twitter that because Brazil is home to the world’s largest Lebanese population, the tragedy feels as though it happened on Brazilian soil.

Brazil already has a ship on a peace mission in Lebanon. The defense ministry previously said it would remove the vessel by the end of this year, citing budgetary restrictions.

The Lebanese consulate in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, said in a statement it is in the process of asking local authorities to provide assistance. All fundraising must be “swift and transparent,” it said.

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8:25 p.m.

The Tel Aviv municipality has lit up City Hall with the Lebanese flag in solidarity with the people of Beirut after Tuesday’s devastating explosion, drawing an outcry from some in Israel.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai wrote on Twitter earlier on Wednesday that “humanity takes precedence over every conflict, and our hearts are with the Lebanese people following the horrible disaster that befell it.”

Israel and Lebanon are officially in a state of war and do not have diplomatic relations. Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006 against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and the sides remain bitter enemies. Current and former lawmakers criticized the decision to project the Lebanese flag.

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, also lashed out against the decision on Twitter, calling it “simply insane. Lebanon is officially an enemy state. By law, it is a criminal offense to fly an enemy flag.”

No such law exists in the Israeli legal code.

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8 p.m.

Britain is promising a 5-million-pound ($6.6 million) humanitarian support package for Lebanon following Tuesday's devastating explosion in Beirut.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Wednesday that search and rescue teams and expert medical support are ready to be sent. He added that a Royal Navy ship already in the area can also be deployed to help assess the damage to Beirut’s port.

Raab said he spoke Wednesday to Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who he said promised a “full, thorough and rigorous” investigation into the blast, and accountability for those responsible.

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7:30 p.m.

A U.N.-backed tribunal has postponed the delivery of judgments in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah charged with involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The move was a mark of respect to victims of the devastating explosion that rocked Beirut late Tuesday.

The verdicts were to have been read out in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s courtroom in the Netherlands on Friday, but will now be delivered on Aug. 18.

In a statement, the tribunal says the decision to delay Friday’s court hearing was made “out of respect for the countless victims of the devastating explosion that shook Beirut on Aug. 4” and the three days of public mourning announced in Lebanon.

The court has expressed “its solidarity with the Lebanese people in these difficult times.”

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7:10 p.m.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are participating in a blood donation drive to try and help victims of the explosion in Beirut that has wounded thousands.

Dozens took part in a blood drive in the city of Khan Younis on Wednesday, which was sponsored by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Organizers said they will coordinate with the International Committee of the Red Cross to try to get the blood donations delivered to Lebanon.

“I donated my blood in a moment of loyalty to the Lebanese people,” said Khan Younis resident Abu Diab Ouida.

The Gaza Strip has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007, after the Islamist militant group Hamas took power from Palestinian rivals in an armed coup. It remains unclear whether the donated blood will be able to reach Lebanon.

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6:50 p.m.

The Hungarian government says it is donating 1 million euros ($1.2 million) for rescue, salvage and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.

The donation to be made through the Hungary Helps program, which provides assistance mainly to charities of Christian churches and o