BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities Friday called on relatives of the Lebanese who perished onboard the Air Algerie aircraft to come forward for DNA testing, after the announcement by French President Francois Hollande that while the plane's black box was found, none of the passengers survived the crash.
The Director General of the Foreign Affairs Ministry Haitham Jomaa has told the relatives to call 03-211103, in order to provide samples for DNA testing.
Jomaa said that DNA samples were key to the search and retrieval operations in Mali. A delegation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, along with representatives from General Security and the Higher Relief Committee, will travel to Mali to take part in the rescue operation.
Lebanon is expected to announce a day of national mourning for the 19 victims who died in the crash.
France's transport minister said earlier Friday that it was extremely unlikely, and even "out of the question" that any of the 116 people -- including at least 19 Lebanese -- onboard an Air Algerie plane that crashed over Mali had survived.
"Given the state of the plane [wreck], it is very unlikely, even out of the question, that there are any survivors," Frederic Cuvillier said on French television, adding that French military forces were heading to the site where the jet -- which had 51 French nationals on board -- crashed.
France has "from the start" ruled out that an Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali was shot down from the ground, Cuvillier said.
"We have excluded from the start the possibility of a strike from the ground," he said, rejecting speculation that the jet could have been shot down by rebels in Mali's restive north.
Hours after finding the wreckage in Mali, the French Interior Minister said that the most likely cause of the crash was the weather.
"We think that this plane crashed for reasons pertaining to meteorological conditions," Bernard Cazeneuve said on RTL radio, adding it was the "most probable hypothesis" although authorities were not excluding other potential causes for the crash.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Friday Lebanon was working with France to facilitate the search and repatriation of the bodies.
"We are dealing directly with French authorities, who has promised to facilitate logistical work for us," he told reporters at a news conference.
"This is a major tragedy for Lebanon and we will deal with it accordingly. But the area where the plane crashed is technically a war zone."
Prime Minister Tammam Salam contacted Bassil who informed him that the ministry was working on identifying the victims and a speedy repatriation process.
A source at Lebanon’s Consulate in Burkina Faso initially told The Daily Star Thursday that at least 20 Lebanese were on board of the plane.
Lebanese authorities, who are dispatching a joint diplomatic and military delegation to take part in search and rescue efforts, are expecting difficulties retrieving the bodies of the Lebanese passengers.
“We are closely coordinating with French authorities and we are glad they are overseeing the whole operation,” Bassil disclosed, adding that the fact that the plane fell in an isolated zone would complicate rescue and retrieval efforts.
“We are expecting difficult days ahead.”
Later Friday, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called on local governors to visit the plane crash victims' families in the south, Nabatieh and Mount Lebanon.
Machnouk’s request was aimed at conveying the government's concern over the tragedy, and its insistence on following up on measures taken by the delegation assigned to travel to Mali.
The Interior Minister urged the director-general of Lebanon’s General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, to facilitate the measures needed for the victim’s families to travel to Mali and retrieve the remains of their relatives.