Beirut port explodes two years later: open wound festers as authorities try to close case

It was 6:07 p.m. Thousands of lives have been turned upside down and the Lebanese capital – accustomed to disasters – has turned into a hellish landscape.

Like broken clocks, disaster seems to have been suspended in time. Thursday marks two years since the port explosion. Yet the hardest hit eastern neighborhoods of the city bear the scars of the explosion. The relatives of at least 215 people who died are still mobilizing for justice. The judicial investigation into the explosion is moribund. And the port’s huge wheat silos – which withstood the effects of the blast despite their proximity – have been burning for weeks.
In the two years following the explosion, The Lebanese political elite – colloquially known by the pejorative term al-sulta, or “the power” – escaped justice and attempted to sweep memory under the proverbial rug. For activists, especially relatives of the deceased, it was a painful reminder of how the country’s civil war ended in 1990.

Then an amnesty law absolved warring parties in Lebanon for apparent crimes against humanity and war crimes, including massacres, rape, extrajudicial executions and mass displacement. Accounts of this 15-year conflict cannot be found in the country’s official history books. A whole population has been ordered to move on.

A year after the Beirut explosion, survivors are still grieving, still angry and still waiting for justice

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 loss up to 12 kilometers (7 .5 miles).

In the years that followed, the government repeatedly blocked a forensic evidence who charged several officials with criminal negligence for the improper storage of up to 2,700 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate, the ignition of which led to the devastating explosion. Some of those charged were re-elected to parliament this year.

Earlier this year, the government also rolled out plans to demolish the damaged silos, angering the families of the victims, who see them as a memorial to the disaster. The government bowed to popular pressure and the plan was abandoned.

But weeks later, the structure began to burn, raising suspicion among activists and relatives of the deceased. They accused the government of making half-hearted attempts to put out the fires – a charge it denies. When two of the silos finally collapsed over the weekend, activists boiled over.

“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 looks like the collapse of the state slowly collapsing, without any serious action to stop it or hold those responsible accountable.”
What we still don't know about the explosion at the port of Beirut

Beirut’s wheat silos are several things at once. They stand like an imposing tombstone of a bygone era. The smoldering structure also seems to be festering like an open wound in the city’s collective memory. And especially for the relatives of the victims, it marks the scene of a crime, an imminent mass that recalls the quest for responsibility.

Since the explosion, Lebanon’s financial downfall, which began in October 2019, has continued. The country is in the throes of a bread crisis, partly due to the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also due to the deterioration of Lebanon’s infrastructure and finances. Its economic woes – inflation, soaring unemployment, mass poverty – continue unabated.

But for many, the successive crises have not overshadowed the memories of the Beirut port explosion: the shattered glass that crunched underfoot for weeks afterwards; the scenes of overwhelmed hospitals; those who perished and those who barely survived. For those seeking justice, the events of 6:07 p.m. on August 4, 2020 must continue to reverberate until those responsible are held accountable.

The summary

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

The Israeli Prime Minister made a rare allusion in a speech Monday to the country’s widely suspected nuclear arsenal.
  • Background: Appearing at an event marking a 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 as 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 tend to call ‘other capabilities.’ These other capabilities keep us alive and will keep us alive as long as we and our children are here,” Lapid said.
  • why is it important: Israel is widely believed to possess a few hundred nuclear weapons, having developed the technology in the 1960s. Unlike most states believed to have nuclear weapons, Israel has never officially declared possession. Instead, it pursues a policy of “opacity” – meaning Israeli leaders, when pressured, have preferred to make only oblique or ambiguous reference to nuclear weapons.

Yemen’s warring parties renew truce for two more months

Warring parties in Yemen agreed on Tuesday to renew a two-month truce, UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement. The rival parties have agreed to extend the truce for another two months.

  • Background“I am pleased to announce that the parties have agreed to extend the truce, on the same terms, for two additional months, from August 2, 2022 to October 2, 2022,” Grundberg said in a statement, adding that the extension includes a commitment to “intensify negotiations to reach an expanded treaty agreement as soon as possible”.
  • why is it important: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition have been at war for seven years, but on April 2 agreed to a two-month UN-brokered truce, which was due to expire on Tuesday. The rival parties have yet to agree on a permanent ceasefire.

Biden admin approves potential multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

The Biden administration on Tuesday approved and notified Congress of possible multibillion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

  • Background: The US State Department has approved a possible sale of PATRIOT MIM-104E (GEM-T) enhanced-guided tactical ballistic missiles and related equipment to Saudi Arabia for an estimated $3.05 billion. The U.S. government also approved the potential sale of “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system missiles, THAAD fire control and communications stations, and related equipment at an estimated cost of $2.245 billion.” in the United Arab Emirates.
  • why is it important: The approval notice comes just weeks after President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the Saudi city of Jeddah last month. It also comes amid US efforts to entice 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 truce in Yemen.

day number

$704 million

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

What is the trend

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said he wants to join BRICS, a grouping of emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Tebboune said his country met the conditions to join the group.

The hashtag was trending in Algeria, with most users welcoming the initiative. One wrote of the news that it would ‘make our voices even louder’. Some Internet users guessed what the new name of the group would be since it is formed from the first letter of each member country, one writing: “Algeria wants to join the BRICS… BRICSA?”

Kuwait: #Memory_of_Iraq’s_brutal_invasion

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

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded oil-rich Kuwait in an apparent attempt to pay off debts accrued from the country’s eight-year war with Iran. The invasion was the first domino to collapse before the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991.

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

Twitter users were angry. One wrote: “A parliamentarian with a salary above JD 3,000 ($4,230) gets a fuel allowance, but Jordanians with a salary between JD 400 and 450 get nothing. . I do not understand.” another user tweeted a graphic of a block of cheese in the shape of Jordan being eaten by rats, captioned “this is how I see Jordan…”

By Mohamed Abdelbary

Photo of the day

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