BEIRUT — Twenty-seven months after the Aug. 4, 2020, deadly Beirut blast, a small group of families of the victims gathered in two separate groups outside the port on Friday for the monthly vigil marking the catastrophe that took the lives of more than 200 people.
The explosion injured an additional 6,500 people and ravaged entire neighborhoods. Families of the victims repetitively demand justice, while the investigation led by Judge Tarek Bitar faces intense political interference.
According to L'Orient Today's photographer on the scene, roughly 20 people gathered next to the port under the Emigrant's statue. The families held up pictures of their family members who were killed in the blast.
In a joint statement, the families criticized former President Michel Aoun for "bragging" about his "most prominent achievements" in the last speech he gave as head of state. "Most of his efforts were aimed at releasing the detainees and those directly or indirectly involved in the explosion," the families accused.
The families also stated that Aoun was "striving to get the detainees out with the aim of obliterating the investigation as if nothing had happened for fear that the probe would reach” him and his camp.
They reaffirmed the need to implement the arrest warrants and summons issued by Judge Tarek Bitar and called on \ deputies "to vote on the draft law proposed by the [Forces of] Ghange MPs."
They also asked the Higher Judicial Council to "appoint a replacement judge for Jamal al-Khoury after she retired."
Another group of families gathered a few hundred meters away.
Last year, the families split into two groups. One is led by Ibrahim Hoteit — whose brother died in the blast — and stands against Judge Bitar. This group has repeatedly called for his replacement.
Hoteit said that a Civil Defense member, Abdul Rahman Bishnati, who was injured in the explosion, has succumbed to his wounds. Hoteit did not specify exactly when Bishnati passed away. The firefighter leaves behind three orphaned children.
Earlier in September, the Higher Judicial Council decided to appoint an alternate investigative judge in the blast probe; however, the families insisted that Judge Bitar is “the master of his case,” and stated that “with the bold and impartial judge, the truth will not be lost.”
The Beirut Bar Association also rejected the decision of the Higher Judicial Council.
Almost two years after the tragedy, the investigation was stalled by multiple political maneuvers and is currently suspended due to different complaints filed against Bitar, notably by MPs Ghazi Zeaiter, Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos — all of whom are being prosecuted in the investigation and had warrants filed for their arrest.
Despite being suspects in the investigation, Zeaiter and Khalil were elected to Lebanon's Parliament in May 2022.
Caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, was accused of impeding the investigation by not signing judicial appointments, which have been blocked for several months, suspending the port blast probe.
A press conference was also held at the headquarters of the Beirut Fire Brigade on Friday to explain the sterilization process of fermented wheat still in the rubbles of the port silos, ahead of its transfer to a designated landfill, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Fires erupted in the grain silos for several months over the summer, caused by fermenting wheat that remains scattered in and around the silos.
Reporting contributed by Joao Sousa.
BEIRUT — Twenty-seven months after the Aug. 4, 2020, deadly Beirut blast, a small group of families of the victims gathered in two separate groups outside the port on Friday for the monthly vigil marking the catastrophe that took the lives of more than 200 people.The explosion injured an additional 6,500 people and ravaged entire neighborhoods. Families of the victims repetitively demand...