Beirut blast: At vigil for the dead, families refuse to forget

Six months after Beirut port blast killed more than 200, grief is still raw for families and friends of the dead

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Six months on from a blast at Beirut port that killed more than 200, the grief is still raw for the families and friends of the dead.

On Thursday, dozens gathered at the port's entrance under dark clouds for a vigil to mark six months since an explosion that continues to haunt the shattered city.

Pictures of the dead glared at the soldiers and officers standing guard outside the still devastated port.

Victim's family loses hope for Beirut port investigation

Victim's family loses hope for Beirut port investigation

Six months ago, the buildings were destroyed by one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Today the site is a focus of anguish.

One woman collapsed as she broke down wailing.

Shortly after that, an ambulance with paramedics clad in full PPE skirted past the crowd – a nagging reminder of the country's concurrent crisis.

A view shows the grain silo that was damaged during Beirut port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
A view shows the grain silo that was damaged during Beirut port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon February 4, 2021. REUTERS

Lebanon is theoretically in lockdown due to a devastating surge in Covid-19 cases, though that has done little to smother the calls for justice.

Jospeh Matta's brother Charbel, an officer with the Internal Security Forces, was killed attempting to rescue others. On Thursday, he made an emotional plea to the movement that has – so far – not provided many answers for the events of August 4, 2020.

“We want justice and that’s all, it’s the least we can give our martyrs,” he said.

"My Brother loved Lebanon and the Lebanese people. His colleagues who survived the blast told me that after the first explosion, he ran to help his colleagues, and it was God's will for him to die in an act of braveness."

Despite the families' pleas, justice has not been forthcoming.

A slew of low-ranking port-employees have been arrested and held without charge, but senior officials have refused to appear in court for questioning and the investigation has become politicised.

Efforts have so far focused on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which was being stored incorrectly in the port.

The fertiliser had been in the port since 2013, and its ignition caused the devastating blast.

Yet, for all the obfuscation, those who knew the victims insist they are not going away.

"We won't forgive, we won't forget. We won't get tired of going after you legally, not until we have justice," said Ibrahim Hoteit, a spokesman for the families of those killed in the blast.

Earlier in the day, France's Ambassador criticised the country's authorities for failing to deliver on the investigation.

“Six months after the explosion, it is unacceptable that the Lebanese people should still be waiting for answers from its leaders,” Anne Grillo said in a statement.