Macron visits the hard-hit Gemmayzeh neighborhood. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron walked through the blast-damaged streets of Beirut on Thursday, swarmed by people chanting for the fall of Lebanon's government and pleading for international aid.

Why it matters: Lebanon is at a breaking point. Its economy was collapsing and its government hardly functioning — all before a massive explosion destroyed swathes of the capital city, including its vital port.

  • Macron appears to be the first national leader, foreign or domestic, to visit with residents of Beirut's hard-hit neighborhoods.

What he's saying: The French leader promised to deliver a "new political pact" for Lebanon.

  • "I will propose a new political pact in Lebanon, and I will be back in September, and if they can't do it, I'll take my political responsibility," he told a crowd, per AFP's Mohamad Ali Harissi.

Between the lines: That's quite a statement from the leader of a former colonial power.

  • It shows both Macron's willingness to position himself as a — perhaps the — global leader, and the utter lack of faith Lebanese people have in their own government to rebuild.

On the ground: The scenes have been remarkable, particularly just two days after the explosion.

  • Multiple videos have captured Macron promising to provide aid directly to the people of Lebanon, who have been shouting to him that their leaders cannot be trusted.
  • Crowds have swarmed around him, desperate to be heard. "Please help us. What are you doing to help us?" one man could be heard shouting through tears.
  • Macron pushed aside his security detail to hug one woman, the Washington Post's Liz Sly reports.

Where things stand: The death toll in Beirut has surpassed 135, with at least 5,000 injured, in what appears to have been an accidental explosion.

  • It occurred at a warehouse that had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for nearly seven years, apparently as a result of government inaction. The explosive material had been impounded from a ship.
  • Several port officials are under house arrest.

Go deeper

Aug 12, 2020 - World

U.S. threatens to veto UN peacekeeping in Lebanon over Hezbollah concerns

Peacekeepers with Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty

The Trump administration is threatening to veto a resolution to extend the UN's long-standing peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon if its mandate isn't changed, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: The U.S. is the main funder of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has an annual budget of $250 million. The veto threat is a tactical move, and part of a broader effort to put pressure on Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

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What's happening: Zeta made landfall south of New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane earlier Wednesday before weakening to Category 1. But it was still "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi with life-threatening storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain" late Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

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