At least two immense explosions shook Beirut City on Tuesday, injuring and killing hundreds of
people, strewing devastation across multiple neighborhoods and shattering windows for miles
The cause of the early-evening blasts was not immediately clear, but senior officials said it
appeared that flammable materials stored in a warehouse in the port area had caught fire. An
initial, smaller explosion had apparently ignited a fire. Then came two secondary blasts,
propelling a vast mushroom cloud of pink and yellow smoke over the city.
The casualty numbers rose through the evening, with more than 70 dead, the Associated Press
reported, and more than 3,000 injured, according to the Lebanese Health Ministry.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Red Cross workers were still scouring the wrecked and
deserted streets in neighborhoods adjoining the port, calling out to residents who might be
trapped and injured to identify themselves.
The explosions coincide with mounting tensions between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militia
Hezbollah, which maintains a facility at the port and has long been accused by U.S. officials of
using it to smuggle weapons into the country. The incident follows a spate of mysterious blasts at
Shiite militia weapon-storage sites in Iraq last year, which Iraqi and Israeli officials have said
Israel was responsible for, and more recently a string of explosions at military sites and sensitive
locations in Iran, which regional intelligence officials have said Israel, at least in part, was
An Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to
brief reporters, said that Israel had no role in the Beirut explosions. Israeli Defense Minister
Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi offered the Lebanese government medical
and humanitarian aid as well as immediate emergency assistance, via international intermediaries
because Israel and Lebanon are in a state of war and have no official contact.
In a statement offering condolences to families of the dead and injured, Hezbollah did not
apportion blame. It called the incident a “huge national tragedy” and urged Lebanese to unite to
overcome the ordeal.
At a news conference, President Trump called the explosion a “terrible attack” and said U.S.
generals seemed to feel that it was the result of a “bomb of some kind.” But military officials
said they had yet to make a solid assessment of the explosions.
There were many indications that the blasts may have been a tragic accident. Lebanese Interior
Minister Mohammed Fahmi said it appeared that stocks of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that
can be used in bomb making, had ignited.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab linked the explosions to 2,700 tons of the dangerous chemical that
had been stored at the port since 2014, despite warnings from port officials that the material was
But suspicions lingered that Israel may have been involved, said a senior Lebanese army officer
who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive. Numerous witnesses
reported hearing warplanes overhead at the time, he noted.
“There are suspicions,” the official said. “There will be no conclusion until there has been a full
Israeli planes and drones have been spotted flying with increasing regularity over the city in
recent weeks as tensions have risen.
Health officials warned that the explosion had left a toxic cloud of nitrous oxide hanging over the
city, and told residents to wear masks and stay indoors. The U.S. Embassy issued a similar
warning in a message to U.S. citizens. “There are reports of toxic gases released in the explosion
so all in the area should stay indoors and wear masks if available,” the message said.
One thing that was clear is that crisis-stricken Lebanon, in the throes of a major economic
collapse and battling rising numbers of coronavirus infections, is in little position to cope with
another disaster, especially on this scale. At least two hospitals were badly damaged in the
explosions, and TV footage showed staff evacuating patients to alternate hospitals that were
themselves swamped in the dark, because the city had no electricity.
By Linda Amiani: