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Migrant or blast victim? Lebanon starts DNA testing washed up bodies

September 25, 2020 at 12:42 pm

A view of the Port of Beirut after a fire at a warehouse with explosives led to massive blasts on 4th August in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 August 2020 [Aysu Biçer/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s security forces have started carrying out DNA tests on bodies that washed up on the country’s coast to determine whether they are victims of the 4 August Beirut blast or of a recent migrant boat tragedy, Arab News reported.

At least five bodies that were discovered washed up on Lebanon’s northern coast are being DNA tested by security forces so they can be identified.

The bodies could be some of the nine people still missing after the massive explosion which rocked Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, last month, killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more.

At least one port worker, who had been blown into the sea during the explosion, was rescued alive from the water 30 hours after the blast. He later died in hospital, but his case has raised hope other missing people could be found at sea.

There are also fears, however, that the bodies could be migrants who were passengers on a recent doomed attempt to reach Cyprus by sea.

The boat, which hosted at least 50 Lebanese and Syrian migrants, according to Arab News, left the northern shores of Lebanon on 7 September.

READ: France backs proposal by Lebanese ex-PM to end cabinet deadlock 

The vessel was later abandoned by the ship’s handler and left to drift in the Mediterranean Sea for nearly a week, before it was discovered in international waters by UN peacekeepers.

Survivors told Al-Arabiya they had survived on sea water, powdered milk and toothpaste, but that several passengers had either died, been left at sea, or jumped overboard in an attempt to find help.

At least one man was pulled from the water alive by the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force after he attempted to swim to safety. However, several others have disappeared, and at least four bodies, believed to have been passengers on the vessel, were pulled from the sea earlier this week.

The number of attempted crossings has increased sharply in recent months, reflecting growing desperation in crisis-hit Lebanon.

Economic collapse, the coronavirus pandemic, rising poverty and the trauma of the 4 August explosion have pushed dozens of Lebanese to make for Cyprus.

The UNHCR and UNICIF have both called for the “root causes” of these migration patterns, namely “poverty and lack of economic opportunities”, to be addressed.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Tuesday called, during a virtual speech for the UN’s 75th anniversary, for international help to secure the safe return of Syrian refugees, saying that the Mediterranean state can no longer afford to host them.

READ: Aoun warns Lebanon will go ‘to hell’ unless government agreed