A source of strength and hope, baby George turns one with Beirut blast

Baby George Khnaisser, whose mother was in labour at the moment of the last year's Beirut port blast is pictured at the family home in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon, July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

(Reuters) - Baby George Khnaisser is as old as the Beirut port blast. His mother was in labour on Aug. 4 last year when a stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely for years, exploded in the Lebanese capital, crashing whole windows onto her bed.

Emmanuelle Lteif Khnaisser went on to give birth to her first child under torchlight in the corridor of the destroyed St. George Hospital University Medical Center.

One year later, Emmanuelle and her husband Edmond Khnaisser say their son was "a symbol of life", bringing hope to people in Lebanon.

"Many took strength from him after the blast... We met people whose houses were destroyed and had lost a lot. When they meet George, you see the smile on their face," Edmond said.

The blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, killed more than 200, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.

"For a period after the blast you feel you are still living in shock, you still don't realize what happened to you," Emmanuelle said.

"After that, you realize it more, you become more annoyed and you don't understand what happened, but at the end of the day you have to get up on your feet. I have my baby and I can't look weak in front of him."

Both mother and father agree that George was a source of strength in difficult times.

Lebanon is still reeling from the aftermath of the explosion and also suffering from a financial crisis, one the World Bank has dubbed one of the deepest depressions of modern history.

Like many Lebanese, Emmanuelle said they have had difficulties finding milk and medicine for their baby amid worsening shortages across the country as basic goods run out.

As the anniversary of the blast, and George's birthday, approach, Edmond said they had mixed feelings: "You can't be happy while others are sad at the same time, but we also can't deprive George of celebrating him."

Emmanuelle and Edmond are planning to blow out the candles on the birthday cake with their son - "miracle" baby George, as his instagram page is called - on Aug. 8.

(Reporting by Yara Abi Nader and Alaa Kanaan; Writing by Yara Abi Nader; Editing by Maha El Dahan and Janet Lawrence)

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