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Lebanon marks second anniversary of deadly Beirut port blast

by Aug 4, 2022Arab News

Lebanon on Thursday marks two years since the explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large parts of the capital.

Families of the victims plan to hold marches in Beirut on Thursday afternoon, as they continue their search for justice, with protests also expected in cities in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

The August 4 explosion occurred after a huge stock of ammonium nitrate, inexplicably left in storage at the port for years, caught fire.

So far, no senior officials have been held accountable over the blast and a judicial investigation has been stalled for eight months. There has been widespread political interference in the probe and two sitting MPs charged in connection with the investigation have refused to attend hearings.

Speaking on the morning of the anniversary, Lebanon’s top Christian cleric Bechara Boutros Al Rai hit out at the government’s handling of the probes. He said it had “no right” to impede the investigations and that “God condemns those officials” who did so.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there had been “two years without justice”.

“In the name of the dead, among them the son of a UN staff member, I reiterate my call for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion,” he said.

Two-year-old Isaac, the son of UN staffer Sarah Copland, was the youngest person to die in the explosion.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Legal Action Worldwide and other NGOs on Wednesday called on the UN to send a fact-finding mission.

“It is now, more than ever, clear that the domestic investigation cannot deliver justice,” they said.

On the eve of the second anniversary of the deadly blast, Pope Francis said the truth over what happened “can never be hidden”.

The 2020 explosion has been blamed on mismanagement and corruption, and is viewed as a symptom of the country’s many systemic problems.

Compounding the trauma for survivors and relatives of victims is a fire which has blazed for weeks at the port’s grain silos, which were heavily damaged in the blast.

A section of the silos collapsed on Sunday, and there have been warnings that another will fall soon — possibly on Thursday.

The fate of the silos, which shielded parts of Beirut from the blast, remains a deeply sensitive topic. In April, Lebanon’s Cabinet approved their demolition after a survey found they could collapse in the coming months.

But many Lebanese, including families of some of the blast victims, want the silos to remain as a memorial. Some believe the government is using the fire as a pretext to allow the demolition of the silos.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is in the grip of a devastating economic crisis which first became apparent in 2019 and has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.

Parts of Beirut's grain silos collapsed only days before the second anniversary of a catastrophic explosion at the Lebanese port. AFP

A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of the explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. AFP

 

 

Smoke billows from an area of a large explosion that rocked the harbour area of Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

 

 

The aftermath of blast in Beirut. Sunniva Rose / The National

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