A Week after Blast, Beirut Pauses to Remember the Dead


The shattered city of Beirut on Tuesday marked a week since the catastrophic explosion that killed at least 171 people, injured thousands and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.

Thousands of people marched near the devastated port, remembering those who died in the worst single blast to hit the country.

They observed a minute of silence at 6:08 p.m. local time, the moment on Aug. 4 that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the city's port where it had been stored for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials.

At that moment Tuesday, church bells tolled and mosque loudspeakers recited a call to prayer.

Hundreds marched through the streets of Gemmayze carrying portraits of the dead.

"He knew," read a poster bearing President Michel Aoun's picture.

Aoun, in office since 2016, said Friday he was first told of the dangerous stockpile nearly three weeks ago and immediately ordered military and security agencies to do "what was needed." But he suggested his responsibility ended there, saying he had no authority over the port.

A candlelight vigil was planned for after dusk Tuesday.

The explosion has fueled outrage against top political leaders and security agencies, and led to the resignation of the government on Monday. In the wake of the disaster, documents have come to light that show that top Lebanese officials knew about the existence of the stockpile in the heart of Beirut near residential areas, and did nothing about it.

It still wasn't clear what caused the fire in a port warehouse that triggered the explosion of the chemicals, which created a shockwave so powerful it was felt as far away as the island of Cyprus more than 200 kilometres across the Mediterranean.

"From one minute to the next, the world changed for people in Beirut," said Basma Tabaja, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross' delegation in Lebanon.

Outgoing Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the blast killed a total of 171 people, with between 30 and 40 still missing. Of the injured, 1,500 needed special treatment while 120 remain in intensive care, he said.

The explosion damaged thousands of apartments and offices in the capital. It comes amid an unprecedented economic and financial crisis facing the country since late last year.

Efforts to form a new government got underway a day after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned. His government, which was supported by Iran-backed Hizbullah and its allies, unraveled after the deadly blast, with three ministers announcing they were quitting.

Diab's government was formed after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down in October in response to anti-government demonstrations over endemic corruption. It took months of bickering among the leadership factions before they settled on Diab.

Lebanese have demanded an independent Cabinet not backed by any of the political political parties they blame for the mess they are in. Many are also calling for an independent investigation into the port explosion, saying they had zero trust in a local probe.

Lebanese officials have rejected an international investigation. The government, in the last decision it made before resigning, referred the case to the Supreme Judicial Council, Lebanon's top judicial body, which handles crimes infringing on national security as well as political and state security crimes.

State-run National News Agency said that after the case was referred to the Supreme Judicial Council, state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat will continue his work as a general judicial prosecutor. NNA said that the investigation will continue by the military police and state prosecution and charges will be later filed to the judicial investigator who is to be named by the outgoing minister of justice.

The ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizers and explosives, originated from a cargo ship called MV Rhosus that had been traveling from the country of Georgia to Mozambique in 2013. It made an unscheduled detour to Beirut as the Russian shipowner was struggling with debts and hoped to earn some extra cash in Lebanon. Unable to pay port fees and reportedly leaking, the ship was impounded.

Comments 7
Thumb canadianleb 11 August 2020, 17:22

Apparently Aoun and the PM knew about the explosive material and were warned and did nothing, so will they be held accountable? After all Aoun did say no one responsible will be spared no matter how high up they go. Hang the SOB!!!!

Thumb janoubi 11 August 2020, 17:28

Except him! He and his doomed corrupt party never take ownership or are held accountable.

Thumb tric.portugal 11 August 2020, 18:39

first gonna be Hariri!!! because Hariri never know about the existence of amoniun in beiru port !!then riffi of Tripoli know very well the existence of that material...

Default-user-icon Lebanese Canadian (Guest) 11 August 2020, 17:51

Let's be honest; The Lebanese judiciary system was informed multiple times about this Amonium Nitrate, many legal notes were raised by Customs officials and judges looked into it, but it was swept under the carpet for one reason and only one reason: Hizbollah owns controls this shipment, and Hizbollah wants it for military purposes, this is why the system failed because of Hizbollah rejection to anny order issued by the Lebanese authorities to remove this Amonium Nitrate

Missing kazan 11 August 2020, 18:01

The Lebanese political elite are probably controlled by 20 to 30 families. I believe by now, they should be aware that their system and methods brought enough misery to this country , I hope they will have the decency to step down, and let the people have the freedom and the opportunity to elect a genuine democratic government; and in case they decide to not step down I hope that the people will have enough courage to emancipate themselves from their incompetent “Zaims"

Thumb tric.portugal 11 August 2020, 18:44

genuine democratic governement is the cristhians losing political power in a time that exist two million meca refugies and France, Meca and USA are demanding the integration in Lebanon...a cristhian president, the head of cabinet and the parliament must be cristhians too...until the return of the mecca refugies...everybody know that meca and the envagelicals want´s to cut the head of cristhians in political system, with support of the Islamic France...convert or die...

Thumb ansarullah 11 August 2020, 19:36

Counvert or Dieye!
Shia Shia Shia !!!