A large explosion has hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut, ahead of the verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-PM Rafik Hariri in 2005
Reports have said that the explosion was in the port area of the capital city of Lebanon, and there are unconfirmed reports of a second blast in the city. It is not yet clear what caused them.
Video posted online showed a large mushroom cloud and extensive damage.
A UN tribunal is due to issue its verdict in the trial of four suspects in the murder by car bomb of Hariri.
All four are members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, which has consistently denied any role in Hariri’s death. They are being tried in absentia and the verdict is due on Friday.
The potential second explosion has been reported to have occurred at the Hariri residence within the city.
Hamad Hasan, Lebanon’s health minister, has spoken of many injuries to the public, as well as extensive damage to property. Local media has shown many people trapped beneath debris. A witness has also described the initial explosion as deafening.
These latest reports come amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling the worst economic crisis that the country has seen since the civil war that took place between the years of 1975 and 1990.
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On the morning of the 14th of February 2005, Rafik Hariri, an MP at the time who aligned himself with the opposition in parliament, was travelling within a convoy of vehicles when the explosion went off in a busy area full of hotels and banks, causing widespread damage.
Mr Hariri had been one of Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politicians and, at the time of his death, had joined calls for Syria to withdraw troops which had been in Lebanon since 1976 following the start of the civil war.
The killing brought tens of thousands of demonstrators on to the streets in protest against the pro-Syrian government, with the finger of blame for the assassination pointed at Lebanon’s heavily influential neighbour.
Zein Ja’far, Sky News’ Middle East editor, who was in downtown Beirut at the time of the explosion on Tuesday afternoon, said the “huge explosion” caused windows to “cave in”.
“It tore apart the facade of the building we’re in, and once the dust settled we managed to get ourselves and others in this block outside,” he said.
“It was really quite a worrying sight”.
“The sounds of sirens of the fire brigade, ambulances, the police and also the military has been pretty incessant for the last 45 minutes and a huge number of emergency services and security forces are rushing to that area now,” he said.
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