BEIRUT — Families of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut explosion victims gathered on Saturday to mark two and a half years since the port blast, as activists installed a tent nearby in memory of journalist and fierce Hezbollah opponent Lokman Slim, who was found assassinated two years ago today.
The 2020 port blast, caused by thousands of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed more than 200 people and injured another 6,500. The investigation has been slowed by political and judicial interference, while victims' families regularly call for justice.
Amid cold weather on Saturday, few people gathered at the port's Statue of the Emigrant to commemorate the blast victims, according to L'Orient Today photographer João Sousa. Nearby, a crowd assembled at the tent dedicated to Slim.
The tent recalled similar ones set up by activists in downtown Beirut during Lebanon's October 2019 protests. At the time, one of those tents had been attacked and burnt over the owner's remarks about Israel.
"Besieged by supporters of Hezbollah and their henchmen, Lokman Slim and his companions rushed to support the peaceful activists inside the tent," a memorial press release said on Friday, as loved ones held a ceremony marking two years since his killing.
"The tent was burned by the attackers and later removed by the complicit Lebanese government. This brave standoff was the beginning of a malicious attack on all factions of the revolution. The following two nights Lokman and his family received direct death threats, as the slogan 'Glory to the gun silencer' was pinned on the walls of his ancestral home in the southern suburbs of Beirut," the statement went on. "In response, Lokman publicly accused and held responsible Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and the speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri for any harm that might befall him or his family."
Lawyer Moussa Khoury, investigative journalist Riad Kobaissi and William Noun, brother to one of the firefighters killed in the port blast, were set to speak at the tent Saturday evening, with TV journalist Dima Sadek moderating the discussion.
Last month, the head of the port investigation judge Tarek Bitar decided to resume the probe after 13 months of suspension.
Upon his resumption, Bitar charged Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon's powerful General Security, and Major General Tony Saliba, head of State Security, in connection with the blast, without specifying the charges. He also charged former army commander Jean Kahwaji and Lebanon's top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.
Oueidat reacted by issuing charges against Bitar and ordering the release of all detainees in the investigation, including former customs head Badri Daher. Oueidat's decision prompted several protests by angry relatives of the victims.