BEIRUT: Lebanon has marked the second anniversary of the massive port explosion that ripped through Beirut, with public anger expressed through protests.
An investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference, with no state officials facing any accountability over the tragedy, prompting rights defenders and some victims’ families to demand an international probe.
Lebanon’s top Christian cleric denounced the government for failing to bring to justice those responsible for the blast.
Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, in a mass commemorating the tragedy’s scores of victims, reiterated a call for an international investigation.
He condemned all the attempts of politicians who “are obstructing the investigation, as if what happened is only a trivial accident that can be addressed by evasion, by a settlement or a bargain, as they usually do.”
Families of the victims, activists and the affected people held marches near Beirut Port. They stood in front of a slogan that read: “My government did this.”
Names of the victims were read, with their numbers having risen to 232 following the deaths of many injured people in recent months.
Some survivors remain in hospitals, while others still receive treatment for head injuries.
People raised slogans in multiple languages, as not all the victims of the explosion were Lebanese nationals. There were 52 victims of Syrian, Egyptian, French, Australian, Canadian, German, Dutch, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Palestinian, Pakistani, Ethiopian and Iranian nationalities.
Protesters carried imitation coffins and a large Lebanese flag for the Lebanese people to submit one demand to the international community: The formation of an international fact-finding committee to be delivered later to the UN secretary-general.
As hundreds marched in Beirut to mark the second anniversary, a large block of Beirut’s giant port grain silos — shredded by the 2020 explosion — collapsed. The total number of silos that collapsed within a few days became four. People were asked to wear masks to protect their health.
Despite rebuilding hundreds of residential apartments, reopening stores, restaurants and cafes and reviving some of the nightlife neighborhoods in this area, other entire neighborhoods are still awaiting reconstruction.
Families still hold photos of their victims, crying and demanding the truth, with their protests becoming “an annoying nightmare” for politicians who accused them of starting riots.
In a statement, the International Support Group for Lebanon called on “the Lebanese authorities to do everything possible to unblock any hurdles to the completion of an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the port explosion.”
It stressed that “following through on the judicial process is a necessary element to restoring the credibility of Lebanon’s state institutions, the implementation of the rule of law and proper accountability, and to ending impunity.”
On Thursday, the presidential palace lowered the Lebanese flag at half mast in mourning.
The US Embassy in Lebanon tweeted a photo that included the phrase: “August 4 is the ugliest day … The Lebanese people deserve justice”.
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari tweeted: “Many believe in the truth, and few speak it.”
President Michel Aoun tweeted: “I share the grief of the families of the victims and the injured and the suffering of the families of the detainees. I assure them of my commitment to achieving justice based on a complete truth revealed by an impartial judicial process that goes to the end, far from any fraud or injustice, to hold accountable all those who are proven to be involved, for no one is above the law.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati wrote: “The balance of justice will not be straightened without punishing the criminals and acquitting the innocent ...There is no resurrection for Lebanon without complete justice, no matter how long it takes.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri tweeted: “A deep wound in the heart of Beirut that will not heal unless the snares of obstruction and overpowering the state and the law collapse.”
Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab wrote: “Any step towards revealing the facts of that ominous explosion should not overlook the basic questions that are still unanswered: who brought these materials and for what purpose? Why did they remain for 7 years? And how did the explosion happen?”
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian stated that “everyone is responsible for the explosion; We cannot waver in demanding to quickly unravel the reasons for this crime, who stands behind it, who caused it and the destruction of Beirut.”
In a statement, Hezbollah noted: “We demand an impartial, just investigation in accordance with legal principles, observance of unity of standards.”