A fuel tanker explosion in north Lebanon has claimed 20 lives and injured around 80 people, the Lebanese Red Cross reported. The cause of the explosion is yet to be clarified.
The blast occurred early Sunday in the Tleil village near the border with Syria. The Red Cross team arrived at the scene immediately and recovered 20 dead bodies. Many others suffered critical burns and were rescued by the team and Lebanese soldiers. Reports state that the area has been contained and the team is still searching for more victims.
According to a military official, Lebanon has been conducting fuel smuggling operations for months. The army seized the warehouse in Tleil and ordered to distribute the fuel to residents.
60,000 Liters of Gasoline Stored Illegally
About 60,000 liters of gasoline was stored illegally in the warehouse. Being a scarce commodity, gasoline is available only in the black market at unreasonable prices, the official said. The residents had gathered at the site to buy the fuel when the explosion happened.
Hamad Hassan, the Lebanese health minister, has extended support to the victims. The government has also assured to pay for the treatment of those who were wounded in the blast.
Lebanon has been facing a severe fuel shortage for months due to mismanagement, which has resulted in the soaring poverty and economic downfall of the country.
The severe power cuts have lead to increased consumption of diesel for generators. The crisis worsened further when the central bank decided to end subsidies for fuel products. The Lebanon government was being blamed for its incapability to manage fuel imports.
With the ongoing smuggling and illicit hoarding of fuel, the government deployed troops to crack down on smugglers and confiscate stored fuel.
It hasn't yet been clarified if the tanker was being smuggled to Syria, where the prices of fuel are higher than in Lebanon. The incident has come another deadly blow since the Beirut blast in August 2020 that killed around 214 and injured thousands of people.