Beirut faced fresh misery today as a third fire broke out in the space of a week in a city still reeling from the catastrophic port explosion which killed nearly 200 people last month.
Black clouds of smoke were pouring from the futuristic Zaha Hadid-designed shopping centre today on the main road that passes by the port in central Beirut.
The cause of the fire is not clear, but firefighters doused the bright red flames with water hoses fired from a crane into the smouldering facade of the building.
Separately, there were reports of yet another blaze at a sports facility elsewhere in Beirut, with footage appearing to show smoke rising near a major road.
The series of fires in the last week have brought fresh anguish to a city still in shock from the August 4 blast that devastated Beirut and unleashed a wave of outrage at corruption and incompetence among Lebanon’s elite.
While Emmanuel Macron is spearheading efforts to turn the country around, France is on a collision course with Washington which warned today that the crisis could not be resolved without addressing Hezbollah’s arms supplies.
A crowd gathers around the Zaha Hadid-designed shopping centre which caught fire in Beirut today in the third blaze to hit the city since August’s catastrophic explosion
Black clouds of smoke were pouring from the futuristic shopping centre today on the main road that passes by the port where the explosion took place in central Beirut
The building that caught fire today has been under construction for years but its curved lattice has become a prominent feature of the central commercial area that was rebuilt after the 1975-90 civil war.
During the reconstruction, skyscrapers designed by international architects have gone up and historical Ottoman-era buildings have been renovated.
But Lebanon’s economic crisis had driven many businesses out of the city centre even before the August 4 blast ruined another swathe of the capital.
Witnesses at the scene today saw firefighters use a crane to aim water hoses at the charred facade of the building.
‘What was on fire was the insulation that separates the outside from the inside’ of the building, a civil defence officer said.
‘We were able in the fastest time possible to control’ the blaze, he said.
Today’s emergency follows a small fire at the port last Tuesday and another huge fire on Thursday at a port warehouse where food aid was stored.
Both the explosion and port fires have revived popular outrage against a political class accused of being inept, corrupt and unable to ensure public safety
Firefighters are lifted up by a crane to extinguish the fire which broke out at Beirut Souks on Tuesday. The cause of the fire is not yet known
People watch as firefighters are hoisted up in a crane and water hoses are aimed at the curved lattice of the building in Beirut today
The ruined facade of the building after a fire in what one civil defence official said was the insulation between the interior and the outside of the building
A man inspects the damage as pieces of debris hang from the side of the landmark building
Preliminary government findings said sparks from a power saw could have caused Thursday’s blaze, echoing a theory that welding was also behind the August 4 explosion.
Greenpeace warned residents to protect themselves against ‘toxic’ smoke after Thursday’s fire, which broke out in a warehouse thought to be storing tyres.
On Tuesday, local social media users speculated the cause of the fire at the Zaha Hadid building could also be welding.
Hadid, the British-Iraqi architect who died in 2016, was famed for her architectural works of sweeping curves in countries around the world.
She was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, and best known for her designs for the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the aquatics centre used in the 2012 London Olympics.
The latest fire left residents exasperated in a nation waiting for its politicians to get a grip on the crisis.
‘It’s terrible. It’s unbelievable,’ said Joe Sayegh, 48, who had been on a jog through the city before coming to the scene. ‘Every day we have a problem.’
Wreckage lies in front of destroyed grain silos in the port of Beirut three days after the devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital on August 4
The devastated port of Beirut is seen in an aerial view after the explosion at a warehouse which killed nearly 200 people
The government resigned after the port blast, which was blamed on highly explosive ammonium nitrate kept in poor storage conditions for years.
France is pressing Lebanon to form a new government to tackle endemic corruption and implement reforms to unlock foreign aid.
But many Lebanese remain sceptical that Lebanon’s political elite can chart a new course.
‘With these people, if they are the same people, nothing will change,’ Sayegh said.
While France says that the Iran-backed Hezbollah group has a legitimate role in Lebanese politics, the US regards it as a terrorist organisation.
Hezbollah, which has a parliamentary majority, and its Shi’aite ally Amal held senior posts in the last government including the health and finance ministries.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned France today that its efforts to resolve the crisis in would be in vain without tackling the issue of Hezbollah’s weaponry.
French officials have said the priority is to put in place a government that could implement reforms quickly.
But the United States last week expanded its sanctions related to Lebanon by blacklisting two former government ministers it accused of enabling Hezbollah.
‘The United States has assumed its responsibility and we will stop Iran buying Chinese tanks and Russian air defence systems and then selling weapons to Hezbollah (and) torpedoing President Macron’s efforts in Lebanon,’ Pompeo told France Inter radio.
‘You can’t allow Iran to have more money, power and arms and at same time try to disconnect Hezbollah from the disasters it provoked in Lebanon.’