Italy defense minister in Beirut today with aid

Rome: Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini will be in Beirut today (Monday), presenting emergency aid mobilized by his country’s military to help Lebanon following the devastating explosion in the capital on Aug. 4 and a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Nave San Giusto — a vessel carrying more than 500 soldiers along with chemical warfare and de-mining experts, as well as a field hospital — docked in Beirut on Saturday, Italy’s Defense Ministry said.

The mission, dubbed Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency), “is a further sign of the strong and fraternal closeness of Italy to the Lebanese population in such a difficult moment for the country,” said Guerini.

“In the past 38 years, Italian military forces have never ceased to be present in Lebanon, putting their professionalism at the service of stability and of strengthening security in the country, constantly guaranteeing the necessary assistance to the Lebanese authorities,” he added.

“With this new humanitarian mission, we intend to strengthen the historical link between Italy and Lebanon.”

Guerini also underlined the “delicate work” carried out by the approximately 1,200 Italian soldiers who are part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which is under Italian command.

On Aug. 4, Beirut was shaken by a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate in a port warehouse. More than 180 people were killed and at least 6,000 injured.

The blast exacerbated Lebanon’s economic and public health crisis. According to John Hopkins University, new COVID-19 cases in the country jumped to a record high of 3,310 in the week of Aug. 16-22.

Guerini is the first member of Italy’s government to visit Beirut since the blast, though Rome immediately offered assistance to Lebanese authorities.

The launch of Emergenza Cedri comes after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered his “unconditional support” to Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio had promised his Lebanese counterpart Charbel Wehbe that “Italy would keep on helping Lebanon, and the Lebanese people will not be left alone in this hardship.”

Angelo Tofalo, undersecretary of state for defense, told Arab News: “Italy has historically been close to Lebanon through its peacekeeping forces. The Emergenza Cedri operations will significantly contribute to the rebirth of the country after such a tragedy. Lebanon can count on the help of Italy.”

Italian navy ship Etna is also expected to arrive at Beirut on Monday, carrying more humanitarian aid offered by the navy and the Francesca Rava NPH Italia Onlus Foundation.

The ship set sail from the Italian city of Brindisi on Aug. 19 following a request for help from St. George Hospital in Beirut, one of the three main hospitals in the capital that were seriously damaged.

Electro-medical equipment will be donated, including two ultrasound scanners supplied by General Electric Healthcare, as well as medical supplies such as masks and gowns for staff, and other material.

An Italian Defense Ministry spokesman said that since the Beirut blast, his country’s armed forces have already deployed a field hospital with specialized personnel, similar to those used in Italy during the COVID-19 crisis.