Lebanon is currently experiencing a severe fuel shortage and the past week has seen multiple incidents of tankers being hijacked. Hospitals have warned that they are low on fuel and may be forced to shut down.

Vehicles burn outside the reported home of the lot owner, where the exploded fuel tank was placed, in the village of Tlel in Lebanon's northern region of Akkar on August 15, 2021.
Vehicles burn outside the reported home of the lot owner, where the exploded fuel tank was placed, in the village of Tlel in Lebanon's northern region of Akkar on August 15, 2021. (AFP)

At least 28 people have been killed and 79 injured when a fuel tank has exploded in northern Lebanon early, the health ministry said.

About 200 people were nearby at the time of the explosion, eyewitnesses said on Sunday

Military and security sources said that the army had seized a fuel storage tank hidden by black marketeers and was handing out gasoline to residents when the explosion occured.

Lebanon is suffering from a severe fuel shortage, leading to long lines at gas stations and extended blackouts. The disaster happened in the town of Altalil, in the Akkar region that is one of Lebanon's poorest areas.

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the worst cases of burns probably needed quick treatment abroad to save their lives.

Army and security forces personnel were among the casualties, sources said.

Accounts varied as to what caused the explosion.

"There was a rush of people, and arguments between some of them led to gunfire which hit the tank of gasoline and so it exploded," said a security source.

Local Al Jadeed TV channel reported from eyewitnesses that it was caused by a person who ignited a lighter.

"The Akkar massacre is no different from the port massacre," said former Prime Minister Saad al Hariri on Twitter, referencing an explosion at Beirut's port one year ago, and calling on Lebanese officials including the president to take responsibility and resign.

Lebanon, hit by a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet's worst since the 1850s, has been grappling with dire fuel shortages for months.

READ MORE: Lebanon’s crisis could end up empowering Hezbollah

A person, who was injured during a fuel tanker explosion in Akkar, receives treatment in a hospital in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, August 15, 2021.
A person, who was injured during a fuel tanker explosion in Akkar, receives treatment in a hospital in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, August 15, 2021. (Reuters)

Beirut explosion anniversary

The Lebanese army on Saturday said it seized thousands of litres of gasoline and diesel that distributors were stockpiling at stations across the country.

Fuel shortages have left many with just two hours of electricity a day, while several hospitals have recently warned they may have to close due to power outages.

Lebanon is facing soaring poverty, a plummeting currency and shortages of basic items like medicine.

The Akkar explosion comes less than two weeks after Lebanon marked the first anniversary of a blast at the Beirut port last summer that killed more than 200 people.

On August 4, 2020, a haphazardly stored stock of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded and left swathes of the capital looking like a war zone.

It was one of history's largest non-nuclear explosions.

In the year since, no officials have been held to account for that blast.

READ MORE: Lebanon central bank lifts fuel import subsidies

Source: AFP