The Israeli capital Tel Aviv made a show of solidarity with Lebanon yesterday by lighting up its municipality building with the image of the Lebanese flag, marking a rare break from the recent increased tensions between the two states.
The flag on the city hall followed the catastrophic explosion in Beirut on Tuesday, which rocked the Lebanese capital and destroyed a large section of its port. At least 135 people were killed and over 5,000 were injured in the blast. Around 300,000 of the city’s residents are now homeless as a result of the blast and its shockwave.
“Humanity comes before any conflict,” said Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai yesterday, “and our hearts are with the Lebanese people following this terrible disaster.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also made a rare reconciliatory statement towards Lebanon: “On behalf of the Israeli government, I send my condolences to the people of Lebanon. Yesterday, there was a very big disaster. We are prepared to extend humanitarian aid as human beings to human beings.”
Not everyone within Israel has reacted well to Netanyahu’s offer and to Tel Aviv’s display of the Lebanese flag. The Prime Minister’s own son, Yair Netanyahu, tweeted that, “Displaying the flag of an enemy state is a criminal offence!!!!” Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war with each other. A former member of the Israeli Knesset also refused to express solidarity, calling the blast “a gift from God.”
The explosion and Tel Aviv’s solidarity comes amid increasing tension between the two neighbours over the past year. Concerns have grown about a renewed military confrontation between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.
Despite both sides saying that they do not intend to engage in armed conflict, Israel has been reinforcing its northern border and an altercation occurred between the two at the end of last month. This led Lebanon to announce that it is prepared to defend itself in the event of more attacks against its southern region.
At first thought to be caused by fireworks, the explosion was actually caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port for the past six years. Despite orders to have it removed and disposed of safely, this was not done. Many people in Lebanon are now blaming rampant corruption and misgovernment within the country for this situation and the almost inevitable blast which resulted.