Beirut port explosion two years on: An open wound worsens as authorities try to close the case

It was 6:07 pm. Thousands of lives were damaged and the Lebanese capital — no stranger to disaster — turned into a hellscape.

Like broken clocks, the disaster appears to be suspended in time. Thursday marked two years since the port exploded. But the hardest hit in the city, the eastern neighborhoods still bear the scars of the blast. Relatives of at least 215 people who lost their lives are still rallying for justice. The judicial investigation into the explosion is about to die. And the harbor’s enormous wheat silos — which had withstood the effects of the explosion despite their proximity — had been burning for weeks.
In the two years since the explosion, Lebanon’s political elite — known by the term al-sulta, or “the power” — have avoided justice and tried to sweep the memory under the proverbial rug. . For activists, especially relatives of the deceased, it painfully recalls the way the country’s civil war ended in 1990.

Then, an amnesty law acquitted Lebanon’s warring parties of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, including massacres, rape, extrajudicial executions and mass displacement. Accounts of the 15-year conflict are nowhere to be found in the country’s official history books. An entire population was ordered to move on.

The authorities’ playbook was similar in its response to the 2020 port explosion, which remains the deadliest explosion in Lebanon’s modern history, causing material and physical casualties up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away.

In the following years, the government repeatedly blocked a judicial probe that charged some officials with criminal negligence for improperly storing up to 2,700 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate, the ignition of which led to in a devastating explosion. Some of those charged were re-elected to parliament this year.

Earlier this year, the government also launched plans to demolish the damaged silos, angering victims’ families, who consider them a memorial to the disaster. The government bowed to popular pressure and the plan was dropped.

But a few weeks later, the structure began to catch fire, arousing the suspicion of activists and relatives of the deceased. They accused the government of making a half-hearted attempt to douse the flames — a charge it denies. When two of the nooses finally fell over the weekend, activists were outraged.

“For weeks you let the silos burn slowly and took no serious action to stop the fire,” Activist Lucien Bourjeily tweeted, apparently addressing the political establishment. “The collapse (of the silos) today resembles the collapse of the state that has gradually collapsed, with no serious action to stop it or hold those responsible accountable.”
What we still don't know about the Beirut port explosion

Beirut’s wheat silos are many things at once. They stand as a towering tombstone of a bygone era. The smoldering structure seemed to fester like an open wound of the city’s collective memory. And important to the victims’ relatives, it marks the scene of a crime, a looming mass that serves as a reminder of the search for accountability.

Since the explosion, Lebanon’s financial tailspin has continued, which began in October 2019. The country is in a severe bread crisis, in part due to the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also due to the decay of Lebanon’s infrastructure and finances. Its economic woes — inflation, ballooning unemployment, widespread poverty — continue unabated.

But for many, the series of crises has not overshadowed the memories of the Beirut port explosion: the broken glass floating underfoot for weeks afterward; the scenes of overflowing hospital wards; those who died and those who barely survived. For those seeking justice, the events of 6:07 pm on August 4, 2020 must continue to reverberate until those responsible are held accountable.

The digest

Israel’s Lapid makes a rare allusion to the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal

Israel’s Prime Minister made a rare allusion in a speech Monday to the country’s widely suspected nuclear arsenal.
  • Background: Appearing at an event to mark the change of leadership at the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, Yair Lapid spoke about Israel’s defensive and offensive capabilities, as well as what he called its “other capabilities” — understood to be a reference to nuclear weapons. “The operational arena in the invisible dome above us is built on defensive capabilities and offensive capabilities, and what foreign media call ‘other capabilities.’ These other abilities keep us alive and will remain alive as long as we and our children are here,” said Lapid.
  • Why is this important?: Israel is widely believed to possess several hundred nuclear weapons, the technology of which was developed in the 1960s. Unlike most presumed nuclear weapons states, Israel has never formally declared possession. Instead, it promotes a policy of ‘opacity’ — meaning that Israel’s leaders, when pushed, prefer to make only oblique or ambiguous references to nukes.

Yemen’s warring sides have renewed peace for two more months

Yemen’s warring parties agreed on Tuesday to renew a two-month ceasefire, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement. The rival parties agreed to extend the ceasefire for another two months.

  • Background: “I am pleased to announce that the parties have agreed to extend the ceasefire, under the same terms, for an additional two months, from August 2, 2022 to October 2, 2022,” Grundberg said in a statement, adding that the extension included a commitment to “strengthen negotiations to reach an extended truce agreement as soon as possible.”
  • Why is this important?: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition have been at war for the past seven years, but on April 2 agreed to a two-month ceasefire brokered by the United Nations, which is set to expires on Tuesday. The rival parties have yet to agree on a permanent ceasefire.

Biden admin approves potential multibillion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, UAE

The Biden administration on Tuesday approved and notified Congress of a possible multi-billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

  • Background: The US State Department has approved the possible sale of PATRIOT MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical Ballistic Missiles (GEM-T) and related equipment to Saudi Arabia for an estimated $3.05 billion. The US government also approved the potential sale of “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System Missiles, THAAD Fire Control and Communication Stations, and related equipment at an estimated cost of $2.245 billion” to the UAE.
  • Why is this important?: The notice of approval came just weeks after President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Saudi city of Jeddah last month. It also comes amid US efforts to encourage oil-rich countries to increase oil production, and as Gulf allies express concern over what is seen as a waning US security presence in the region. . The approval was also notified on the same day the United Nations announced a two-month extension of the ceasefire in Yemen.

Number of days

$704 million

Egypt’s Suez Canal in July recorded $704 million in revenues, its highest ever monthly revenue, according to a statement by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) on Tuesday. The record figure was up 32.4% from the same month last year, the SCA added.

What’s trending

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said he is interested in joining BRICS, a group of emerging economies made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Tebboune said his country meets the conditions of joining the group.

The hashtag is trending in Algeria where most users welcome the initiative. One wrote in the news that it was “making our voices heard.” Some users guessed what the group’s new name would be because it was formed from the first letter of each member country, one read: “Algeria wants to join BRICS… BRICSA?”

Kuwait: #Memory_of_Iraq’s_brutal_invasion

“The memory of Iraq’s brutal invasion” was the number one trend in Kuwait this week as users shared old speeches from Kuwait’s then Emir Jaber Al-Sabbah and videos of his return from exile in March of 1991.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded oil-rich Kuwait in an apparent effort to pay off debts incurred by the country’s eight-year war with Iran. The invasion was the first domino to fall in the lead-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war.

The number one hashtag in Jordan this week, #Jordan_is_not_okay, was triggered by the parliament’s decision to raise the monthly salary of MPs by 200 Jordanian Dinars ($282). Parliament defended the decision as compensation for fuel price hikes.

Twitter users are up in arms. One wrote: “A member of parliament whose salary is more than 3000 JD ($4230) receives a fuel stipend but the people of Jordan with a salary between 400 and 450 JDs get nothing… Nothing I understand.” Another user tweeted a graphic of a Jordan-shaped block of cheese being eaten by rats, with the caption “this is how I see Jordan…”

By Mohammed Abdelbary

Picture of the day

An aerial view of the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, carrying a cargo of 26,527 tonnes of maize from the Ukrainian port of Odesa, as it arrives at the Black Sea entrance of the Bosphorus Strait, in Istanbul, Turkey on August 3.