British embassy staff injured in deadly Beirut explosion

Staff at the UK embassy in Beirut suffered injuries in the huge blast that rocked the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, leaving at least 73 people dead.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told Sky News that a small number of staff sustained non-life threatening injuries in the explosion and are receiving medical attention where necessary.

The confirmation came after Boris Johnson and other government officials reacted to the ‘shocking’ tragedy and confirmed British nationals were among those affected.

The Prime Minister said in a statement on Twitter: ‘The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking. All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident.

‘The UK is ready to provide any support in any way we can, including to those British nationals affected.’

The explosion at a port warehouse district in Lebanon’s capital city has killed at least 73 people and injured over 3,700 others. Officials expect the death toll to rise as emergency workers dig through the rubble of buildings that collapsed nearby.

The Lebanese President has blamed the disaster on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left in a warehouse. Footage of the aftermath shows windows were shattered and apartment balconies and ceilings collapsed across the city after the blast.

Other videos from the scene show large plumes of thick smoke rising into the air near former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Downtown Beirut residence. One woman stated that all the buildings in her block had been ‘destroyed’, leaving ‘everyone covered in glass and blood’.

Mayor of Beirut Marwan Aboud has wept during a TV interview, comparing the explosion to the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of the Second World War.  

He said: ‘This reminds me of what happened in Japan, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve never seen damage of this size and width, and so catastrophic. This is a national catastrophe. This is a problem for Lebanon, and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it. This is a lot. It’s a lot all at once for people’.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also responded to the ‘devastating’ incident, adding: ‘The UK stands in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and is ready to offer help and support including to those British nationals impacted.’

It is not clear how many British nationals may have been affected.

Members of staff at Germany’s embassy in Beirut were hurt in today’s explosion, the country’s foreign ministry confirmed.

‘We’re shocked by the photos from Beirut. Colleagues at our embassy are also among the wounded,’ the embassy said in a message on Twitter.

‘Our thoughts are with the relatives of the victims. Germany stands with Lebanon in this difficult hour.’

Eyewitnesses have told of the ‘complete devastation’ caused by the blast.

One witness told Reuters: ‘I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street.’

Another person described seeing heavy grey smoke near the port area, before hearing the explosion and seeing flames of fire and black smoke. They went on: ‘All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.’

The explosion was so big it was felt by residents in Cyprus, more than 145 miles away from Beirut, with witnesses feeling their windows rattle and describing it as similar to thunder.

It comes ahead of the verdict in a trial for the killing of ex Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered in a car bombing in 2005. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has consistently denied any role in his death.

Israeli officials have denied involvement in the blasts amid ongoing tensions following a cross-border confrontation between the nation and Hezbollah.

Lebanon is already in the midst of an economic crisis, with the government facing rapid inflation, soaring unemployment and poverty, all worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier today dozens of protesters battled with security forces as they tried to storm the Ministry of Energy in anger at prolonged power cuts.

Officials have appealed for international help.

Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s country director in Lebanon, said the incident could not have occurred ‘at a worse time’ and has ‘hit communities who were already suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the economic deterioration.’

He added: ‘Beirut’s main port, now completely damaged, is vital for much of the food, grains and fuel that Lebanon imports, and families will immediately feel the shortage in basic needs as a result of this tragedy.’

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