BEIRUT: Parts of Beirut’s grain silos collapsed on Sunday, just days before the second anniversary of a catastrophic explosion at the Lebanese capital’s port that ravaged the stores and parts of the city.
Also on Sunday, US envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut to push talks to resolve a bitter maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel over Mediterranean waters with offshore gas fields.
AFP correspondents said a cloud of dust covered Beirut’s port, while local media reported that two towers fell in the heavily damaged silos’ northern section, where a fire has been burning for more than two weeks.
Footage of the incident showed part of the silo crumbling and a large cloud billowing up after debris hit the ground.
US envoy arrives to push talks between Lebanon and Israel over maritime border dispute
The structure had absorbed much of the impact of the devastating explosion on August 4, 2020 at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 6,500.
The silos shielded large swaths of the city’s west from the devastating effects of the blast, which was caused by haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate fertiliser catching fire.
Sunday’s partial collapse came around two weeks after a fire erupted in the port’s northern silos due to the fermentation of remaining grain stocks along with soaring summer temperatures, according to authorities.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister this week warned they could fall.
“The northern group of silos are now in danger of falling,” Najib Mikati said on Wednesday in a statement, which added that the silos still contained thousands of tonnes of wheat and corn.
He told the army to be prepared and warned workers, civil defence members and firefighters to keep a safe distance from the site.
Once boasting a capacity of more than 100,000 tonnes, an imposing 48-metre high remnant of the silos has become emblematic of the catastrophic port blast.
The Lebanese investigation into the blast has faced systematic and blatant political obstruction from day one.
Authorities were unable to unload around 3,000 tonnes of wheat and corn stuck in the silos because doing so might accelerate their collapse, this week’s statement said.
The environment and health ministries advised the public to evacuate the port area and use masks in the vicinity of the silos in case they collapsed.
Maritime border dispute
Hochstein met with Lebanon’s Energy Minister Walid Fayad on Sunday, and was scheduled to meet with President Michel Aoun and prime minister Najib Mikati the following day.
“Reaching a resolution is both necessary and possible, but can only be done through negotiations and diplomacy,” the US State Department said in a statement ahead of Hochstein’s visit.
Washington’s envoy for global infrastructure and investment is “facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime boundary”, the statement added.
The maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel escalated in early June, after Israel moved a production vessel to the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by Lebanon.
The move prompted Beirut to call for the resumption of US-mediated negotiations on the demarcation dispute.
Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.
They had resumed maritime border negotiations in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.
Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometres of territory in the disputed maritime area but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres, including part of the Karish field.
Israel claims that the field lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations.
On July 2, Israel said it had downed three drones launched by Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah that were headed towards the gas field.
The powerful Shia Muslim movement on Sunday released a short video it said showed surveillance of several Israeli-chartered energy infrastructure ships, including the production vessel sent to Karish which is operated by London-listed firm Energean.
Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2022