Port officials under house arrest as rescue efforts continue

Lebanon’s cabinet has declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut following a massive explosion in the port that rocked the city on Tuesday, killing 135 people.

A number of Beirut port officials have been placed under house arrest pending an investigation.

President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.

Customs chief Badri Daher said his agency called for the chemical to be removed, but "this did not happen".

The army will oversee the house arrest until responsibility is determined for the huge explosions that devastated the city, ministerial sources told Reuters.

​The cabinet also approved an exceptional allocation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds to deal with the crisis.

The ammonium nitrate had reportedly been in a warehouse in Beirut port for six years after it was unloaded from a ship impounded in 2013.

The head of Beirut port and the head of the customs authority both told local media that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on to ensure port safety.

There have been no reports of British fatalities in Lebanon so far, PA news agency understands, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors.

Lebanon's Supreme Defence Council has vowed that those found responsible will face the "maximum punishment" possible.

House arrest would apply for all port officials "who have handled the affairs of storing [the] ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork" since June 2014, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said.

The move is an attempt by the government to show the Lebanese people that it is serious about enforcing accountability.

Tuesday’s explosion comes at a time when Beirut is still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.