Middle East

Frances Macron to visit Beirut as world pledges help for stricken Lebanese capital

France is sending planes to Beirut on Wednesday with rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic, followed by a visit Thursday by President Emmanuel Macron, as world leaders offer support to the Lebanese capital devastated by a massive explosion.

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Macron will meet his counterpart Michel Aoun, whom he called late Tuesday, as well as Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the Élysée Palace announced as France prepared to send three planes with search and rescue personnel and medical equipment to the ravaged city.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex is holding a meeting later Wedneday to organise France's aid for Lebanon in the wake of Tuesday's twin explosions at the port of Beirut – the second one a blast that mushroomed out with the force of an earthquake.

At least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured in the explosion that flattened buildings and sent glass shards and debris flying, according to the Lebanese Red Cross. Beirut's governor said 300,000 people have been left homeless and damage is estimated at up to $5 billion.

Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties.

France stands with Lebanon

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France stood "alongside Lebanon" and was ready to help it after the powerful explosions that rocked Beirut.

"France stands and will always stand by the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It is ready to provide assistance according to the needs expressed by the Lebanese authorities," he said in a tweet. On Wednesday he vowed that France would mobilise the international community to provide humanitarian aid for Lebanon.

His comments came as emergency medical aid and pop-up field hospitals were dispatched to Lebanon on Wednesday as the world offered assistance and paid tribute to the victims of the huge explosion that devastated Beirut.

Emergency medical aid from Kuwait arrived in the Lebanese capital on Wednesday morning as the Lebanese government called on "friendly countries" to support a nation already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Gulf states were among the first to respond, with Qatar announcing it would send field hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon's strained medical system.

Crews at Doha's Al-Udeid airbase loaded hundreds of collapsible beds, generators and burn sheets onto an air force cargo plane, one of four due to fly from the Gulf to the Mediterranean on Wednesday.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said in a message to his Lebanese counterpart that Tehran was "ready to offer medical and medicinal aid and help treat the injured". Jordan's King Abdullah II also promised to dispatch a field hospital.

"The field hospital will include specialists and medical staff, to contribute in offering medical services and treatment to support our brothers in Lebanon," Jordanian state television said in a report.

The European Union said it would rush rescuers, search dogs and equipment to Beirut to look for any survivors trapped in rubble after the massive blast that struck the city.

"The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is now coordinating the urgent deployment of over a 100 highly trained firefighters, with vehicles, dogs and equipment, specialised in search and rescue in urban contexts," the European commission for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said in a statement.

"They will work with the Lebanese authorities to save lives on the ground."

Dutch authorities announced that 67 aid workers were headed for Beirut, including doctors, police officers and firefighters.

'Stay strong, Lebanon'

Close allies and traditional adversaries of Lebanon alike sent their condolences, with Iran and Saudi Arabia – long rivals for influence over the country – both sending messages of support.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the great and resilient people of Lebanon," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. "Stay strong Lebanon."

Saudi Arabia said it was following the situation with "great concern".

Unusually, neighbouring Israel offered humanitarian aid – to a country with which it is still technically at war.

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