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Macron to visit Beirut as France sends rescuers, equipment

Middle East | 2020-08-05 16:46:16
Macron to visit Beirut as France sends rescuers, equipment
France will send three planes to Beirut Wednesday with rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic, followed by a visit Thursday by President Emmanuel Macron to the city devastated by a massive blast, the government said.

The presidency announced that two military planes would leave Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris around midday (1000 GMT) to arrive in the Lebanese capital late afternoon with 55 search and rescue personnel on board, it said.

The planes would also bring 25 tonnes of sanitary equipment and a mobile clinic equipped to treat 500 injured people.

A dozen emergency personnel will also be sent to Beirut shortly "to reinforce hospitals in the Lebanese capital," said the presidency.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian later said a third, private humanitarian plane will leave from Marseille in the south of France with teams of medical workers who would be "immediately operational".

The fire department of Marseille said it had made available material and nine staff -- four emergency doctors, three nurses and two marine firefighters.

A cataclysmic explosion at Beirut port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people and wounding thousands.

The blast appeared to have been caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse.

"It is during trials that friends are there, and we are there," Le Drian said after a telephone conversation with his Lebanese counterpart Charbel Wehbe.

President Emmanuel Macron called his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun late Tuesday to express France's support for the Lebanese people and promise a dispatch of French aid.

On Thursday, Macron will travel to Beirut to "meet all political actors", including Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the Elysee announced.

Le Drian said France will continue mobilising assistance as needed.

"For now, it is time to ensure international solidarity" with Lebanon, he told the LCI broadcaster, pointing out that food aid will be high on the list as the blast in the port of Beirut had destroyed crucial wheat silos.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization expressed fear Wednesday that the destruction of the silos would result in critical severe flour shortages.

The 55 rescuers being deployed from Paris Wednesday are specialists in post-disaster rubble clearing and rescue, said the Elysee, adding France was working to "identify additional needs" on the ground in Beirut.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will gather ministers Wednesday responsible for coordinating aid to Beirut.

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