In August, 2020 file photo,ET reporter finds Several moving scenes,Effects of fire inside the port,Yara the youngest child injured after huge explosion,and the determination of youth to rebuild Beirut ntry
- Beirut Port explosion, the crime without perpetrators! ,The disaster scenario continues
- UNICEF Regional Director: 600,000 children need psychological support
- A bitter winter is coming while thousands of families are become homeless
- The surviving children raise the slogan "We love life, We don't want to die.
- " Young Yara dreams of "A night's sleep" and Mona: Glass shreds are on my face;“The livelihood of my orphaned grandchildren is lost” said elder Ellie
3 Messages from the injured and the afflicted: "The role of the state is absent , We need our homes to be restored,We want the right of the martyrs"
12,000 people with special needs were affected by the explosion and its repercussions, "according to United Nations statistics"
- Approximately $ 8 billion is the size of the losses that affected the Beirut governorate, "according to World Bank estimates."
- 150,000 women affected, among them 81,000 of reproductive age "from 15 to 49 years", according to the United Nations Population Fund
- 1000 injured children (UNICEF)
- 7000 injured and 202 dead ... (according to the Lebanese Ministry of Health)
- 300,000 people have become homeless (United Nations and Beirut Governorate)
- 200,000 housing units directly damaged (United Nations Office in Beirut)
- 3000 buildings were severely destroyed (United Nations Office Beirut)
Beirut - 18 Aug 2020:“Beirut, the Pearl of the East, Beirut ... Rise up from under the rubble like an almond flower in April. Raise from your sorrows... The revolution is born from the womb of sorrows.”..With these timeless verses from the poem of the great poet Nizar Qabbani, which summarize the strength and agony in Beirut over the past 30 years, Magda Al-Rumi sang to Paris of the East, that ancient city mentioned in the letters of Tell el-Amarna in the 15th century BC, and perhaps he did not know in the mind of the “Rumi” that the throats of the Lebanese would one day scream and repeat the same verses, calling on Beirut to literally rise from “under the rubble”.
“The Pearl of the East” transformed within a mere 6 and 7 minutes on August 4, into a city inhabited by destruction, scattered body parts and blood mixed with rubble, turning it into the “Stricken Beirut”, so that the Lebanese begin a new journey of searching for the rights of the victims, and for a homeland that gives them safety and the dignity of life.
In Lebanon, crises give rise to crisis. This country, which is unique in its geographical location, has witnessed several sectarian and political models since its independence until today. Despite the cessation of the civil war, another kind of war has begun, based on "quotas", and its two main parties control the state and its policies. What made the Lebanese situation more complicated, until the train of the political scene reached the station of the October 17, 2019 revolution.
On the impact of the scenes circulating of those crises, we decided to closely monitor the Lebanese reality, and live the suffering of a people, due to its excessive struggle with the causes of death in a country that represents the meeting point of regional conflicts and international ambitions, and decided to rip "life" apart while bombarded with neglect and corruption from its politicians.
On more than a 30-day trip between the eight governorates of Lebanon, starting from the north through Beirut, and reaching the south, we monitored, through a series of a 6 part investigative report, as documented in film and photography, the tragedies of a country that had become a "land of pain.” We retell touching stories not only of the victims of the explosion, but of the victims of the troubled reality at large. We document the recounts of the survivors of the Death Ferries” and we shed light on the secret world of the illegal immigration mafia, the smuggling crossings, and the suffering of patients amidst a health crisis, especially in light of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Citizen complaints were our starting point for discussing the economic situation and the chronic electricity crisis, including the secrets of the diesel mafia and the suspicious deals made by electricity generating companies. we conveyed the reality Inside the refugees camps and Ain al-Hilweh camp, which is the "most dangerous camp" in the south, We brought up what this crisis represents from the burden on Lebanon.
In Lebanon, the external and internal "political war" is raging, combustible at any moment in the midst of the Lebanese crisis. Words cannot even begin to express the pain of a people who insist on life defying their pain. In this investigative report we focus on the deepest pain, "the explosion at the Beirut port”, and the tragedies that followed after that..
At first glance, when you enter the town of Qartaba in the Mount Lebanon Governorate, the pictures of three young men surrounded by wreaths of white roses decorating every inch of the town draw your attention. They are: “Naguib Hatta, Charbel Hatta, and Charbel Karam.” All three are part of the same family, and are the heroes of the Beirut Fire Brigade, among the 10 firefighters who were at the forefront of victims in the Beirut Port August disaster.
They paid their souls while trying to extinguish the fire of the explosion that occurred on August 4, caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the vicinity of a civilian area, and shook the entire world, as it equaled an earthquake measuring 4.5 degrees on the Richter scale. About 7000 people were injured, 200 dead, 9 missing, and 300,000 homeless, according to estimates by the Lebanese Ministry of Health and the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon.
Several days after the tragedy, How does Beirut look? The city is still trying to pick up the ruins left by the explosion that have burdened the Lebanese, despite clear absence of effective governmental action. The tone of international support for reconstruction has faded, due to the lack of clarity of the reform vision in the country.
At the same time, the investigations have not yet revealed those involved in the Port crime, but what the Lebanese street agrees on is that the political class is the first suspect in what Lebanon has come to today, and The miserable conditions that Lebanese live nowadays..We take up the details in this investigative report.
The groom’s Chocolate
“Help yourself to the groom’s chocolate,” said Brita, the mother of the fireman, Naguib, in a faint, cracked voice from the of the three young men’s family homes. After 12 days of searching initially, her children’s’ remains were found, and she celebrated with roses and pieces of chocolate wrapped in white satin “a sign of joy”.
Painstakingly, the bereaved mother continues her speech, carrying her son’s picture on her chest, while her hands are shaking, saying: “My son is a martyr of corruption. He went to put out the fire with his colleagues, and they were not told that there are explosives. We lost three young men in their ripe ages. My son dreamed of getting married and making a family. But in our country, dreaming is forbidden!”
Regarding the day of the accident, she says: "My son spoke to me an hour before the explosion. He said to me, I miss you, mom. When we heard the sound of the explosion, we ran to Beirut, but they did not allow us to go to the port, so the search for them went on for days."
The mother demands that those responsible for the disaster be held accountable, saying: "The criminals must be held accountable. People love life but let them live. We will not leave our homeland and emigrate.” Whereas Charbel Hatta’s mother, had nothing but tears to express her feelings.
The resilience signs
From Qartaba, we headed to Beirut "the Pearl of the East", the largest city in Lebanon and its economic engine. The Phoenicians called it "the glorious and proud Beirut." While striding along the paths of the old city you would notice the streets ornamented with phrases such as “Beirut had died a thousand times, and a thousand times had come to live”, “Beirut will never die”, “I will not migrate to another country,” while the walls of the buildings have turned into graffiti with painfully inscribed phrases: “This is what my country has done to me”, “I want a homeland”, “No confidence!.”
From the womb of pain, hope is born
In light of the mobile phone and the sounds of explosions, the moment of birth of the child George Edmond came. While Beirut was devastated, his first cry rang out at San George Hospital. It was like a declaration of adherence to life, to tell one of the hundreds of stories that confirm the "willpower to live in Lebanon."
The moments of this exceptional birth are not absent from the eyeball of Edmund Khunither, the father of the baby George, who told us the details of those terrifying moments that he lived, saying: “Minutes after my wife entered the operating room, an explosion occurred, and everything was destroyed in a moment. The surgical instruments flew in every direction, we became terrified. My wife ran to remove the aluminum and glass that had fallen on her, and the medical staff continued to work despite the injuries”.
The father added, "I was watching my wife's breathing to make sure that she was still alive. We used the cell phone light instead of electricity ... I will not forget the screams of parents while they were looking for their children in the hospital!"
“Immediately after the birth, my wife walked a great distance until we found a car and we reached another hospital.” Edmund Continues.
Stories from under the rubbles
Not far from the site of the hospital in which George was born, there is Beirut’s Mar-Michael Street has transformed from a place full of restless movement day and night into a yard for running in every direction in search of the missing under piles of rubble. Sadness have become a common denominator among the faces of the Lebanese people, only the screams of those suffering from the glass shards that penetrated their bodies.
In the midst of this scene, a 60-year-old sits next to a destroyed store, of which only two walls and remnants of wooden shelves remain, and on the ground empty containers are scattered, once the site of a humble store selling sweets and canned drinks. Sadness overwhelms the elderly man’s wrinkled face, the scars of wounds are on his arms, and as we approached him, he said, “I only had this store as a source of livelihood for my orphaned grandchildren. I don’t know where I got the money to fix it, so I barely believed in our day’s food!” he said telling us his story.
Elder Elie Rafik burst into tears, continuing his story, “I was at home at the time of the explosion, and the glass fell everywhere. I felt as if it was the end of the universe. Thank God, I’m still alive but I will keep sitting next to my shop. I have hope for someone to help me or will be left here until I die.”
“From my heart, peace to Beirut
“From my heart, peace to Beirut” this is A sign which standing in the vicinity of the Beirut port,while you stand next to it, From the site of Lebanon’s largest port you can see the neighborhoods most affected by the explosion, which are Karantina, Rmeil, Achrafieh, and Gemmayzeh in central Beirut, always known for its charming nightlife, cafes and shops, although all those buildings have become rubble.
In front of one of those buildings, we met Essam Atta, a young man in his 20s who was found after 18 hours of searching under the rubble. He returned to his demolished home after a period of hospitalization, where he was injured in the legs, and is now immobile. Essam describes his tragedy: “The roof fell on us, I opened My eyes then found myself laying among the rubble, and the voice of my friend, who was among the rescue team, helped me cling to life, until they brought me out, and I discovered that I had lost my brother, Abdo and my friend Shady.” Essam’s only remaining hope today is to restore his house to protect him from the harsh winter cold.
We went up another building, with the effects of destruction clear in all its corners. We had barely reached the second floor, through the broken stairs covered in rubble, which made the climb a difficult chore. To the left of the stairs we found a plastic bag in place of the apartment door. We asked for the permission to enter and found an old woman sitting on a wooden chair on a broken and scattered floor on top of which lie scattered furniture and a crumbling roof.
Maryam Daoud is keen to go to her house every day despite it being shattered. Searching among its rubble is her family, as she has lost two of them. Maryam tells her story: “I was standing on the balcony and the explosion threw me inside. My head was injured, and my daughter and her husband were bleeding. We tried to go down to the street but we couldn't because of the rubble. We stayed like this until my husband arrived to save us, but my daughter and her husband were already dead.”
Inside the Al-Roum Hospital, we found the Khouryet Vera barely walking the hospital’s roads. She was injured by the explosion and is still receiving treatment. She spoke while tears suffocating her voice, saying, “We were in the church and we heard the sound of flying, then a storm came upon us that took the door off and fell over us.. some bodies carried me to the hospital and still needs more than an operation For my body and my arms. "
Between doors and walls stained with traces of blood, we entered Nauman Mohammed's apartment facing the port. He has two children and works in a butcher shop.
“We heard a crackling sound then an explosion so strong occurred that it threw us on the ground. I was injured in the leg but I tried to get up and walk on glass to save my family and take them to the hospital. We barely went to the street, and found a horrific sight of devastation and everyone was running in blood. We hardly found a hospital that batched us up, and we are still being treated,” Nauman described of the night of the incident.
In the same apartment, Nauman’s wife, Mona Al-Mukhmalji, told us, with sadness drawn on her face beside the marks of wounds, while she looks out of the window with gazes of reproach at the port, saying: “The moment of the explosion I hugged my children and then the windows fell on us and I became unconscious. My face bears glass shards that the doctors are trying to extract, and the family of my husband's friend hosted us because we are unable to fix the house.”
In the Achrafieh area, between the rubble and the glass, Elder Bechara Asmar, 65, went down with heavy steps, stairs stained with blood that had not yet been erased, to bring us to his simple home, which he was forced to leave with all the memories he bears. To a picture of his father, hanging over a cracked wall, he could not hold back his tears, saying: “Even that was chattered, they left nothing for us.” Then we entered a balcony that seemed to be a small garden planted with roses years ago, before it turned into rubble.
After a moment of silence, he spoke in a voice that could barely be heard, saying, “We lived through oppression and humiliation, as if the Hiroshima bomb fell on us. My house was destroyed, and I became homeless, but I still have hope thanks to the young people who searched for the elderly to help them, and what others have done to help us,” Elder Bechara describes his suffering.
The explosion left deep psychological scars inside them, according to Dr. Eileen El-Hosseini, a Beirut-based psychiatry, and the rate of depression and mental disorders among adults has noticeably increased.
The Saga of Solidarity for Reconstruction
The youth of Lebanon did not rely on international support. Rather, they, along with the elderly, hurrying to help the afflicted, taking brooms and plastic bags to carry the rubble and glass, contributing to the reconstruction.
Among them is Eric Sam, a university student, whom we found in the Achrafieh area holding a broom cleaning the roads, and he said: “I am here from the day after the explosion, and will continue to rebuild Beirut. We also helped search for homes that host the disabled who lost their homes, because the state is not helping us, so we must help ourselves. We stand by each other ».
Damaged firefighting equipment
The port disaster revealed chronic problems suffered by the fire brigade, which may endanger the lives of firefighters.
As soon as we entered the fire station, we found a number of fire engines lined up in its yard, but they are of old models and look dilapidated. When we asked Colonel Nabil Jankerly, head of the Beirut Fire Brigade, about them, he replied: “Yes, the cars are worn out, some of their models’ date back to longer than 50 years ago, we blew the whistle. We appealed to the Beirut municipality and the Ministry of the Interior to the need to change it, but to no avail, and I hope for a response before the disaster strikes.”
"We also suffer from a shortage of modern devices and equipment, such as those that help detect radioactive or chemical materials in fires," he added.
Regarding the explosion, "Jankerly" said: "When we were notified of the outbreak of the fire, we were not provided with any information about the nature of the burning materials and the size of the fire before moving to secure the life of the firefighters."
Regarding what the state will provide to the families of the martyrs, Colonel Nabil says: "The martyrs have been killed during performing their jobs, so exceptional promotions have been issued to them, and there are efforts to pay pensions for their families."
Bride of Beirut
Sahar Fares, a paramedic with the fire brigade, joined the constellation of Ersan Qartaba, and her family held a wedding for her, but instead of the marital nest, it is for death. Her sister Maria says, “She was preparing for her wedding soon, but death was sooner. I and all the families of the victims’ demand that their blood does not go to waste, and that the perpetrators are held accountable.”
She added, "The state did not approve rights or pensions for the martyrs, but gave them ranks, and we were hoping for these promotions while they were living and not after they died."
Lebanon's flowers are "victims"
The little flowers of Lebanon also had their share of the tragedy. The details of the stories of the children who were affected by the explosion differed, but they all raised the slogan "We do not want to die", after the panic that struck them.
"The impact on children will go to a very deep extent if they do not receive adequate support," said Save The Children’s Anne Sophie Dipodal, adding that many were vulnerable to stress as a result of the successive crises that have pushed more than half a million children in Lebanon to struggle in hunger, in addition to the repercussions of home quarantine.
Mustafa Nauman, 10 years old, was among those affected by flying shards of glass, as he was hit in the head and one of his ears. Mustafa did not have many words to tell us, but his eyes revealed what was rattling inside him, however what he said was extremely touching: “The moment of the explosion I felt a kind of fear I have never witnessed before, and until this moment I get startled with the loud noises and I find it difficult to sleep.”, His sister Lamar, 8 years old, picked up the conversation, saying: “I heard a sound of thunder, so I cried in my mother’s embrace, and suddenly blood came from my leg, so I was screaming. I was forced to walk on my leg while it was bleeding to reach the hospital. I saw people dead around me and the blood is filling the streets, I still see them in my dreams, now I feel afraid of the sound of cars, ”Lamar concluded her speech with a message to Beirut:“ I still love you, Beirut. ”
Inside an old building in the Achrafieh area the child Yara Al-Saeed lives, she is about to be four years old, and her face was severely injured. We find her playing with remnants of toys in the middle of her house, which is now doorless. Yara told us what she witnessed in her own words , saying “The iron of the door fell on me, and my face kept bleeding, the whole world was in ruins, I was afraid and I hanged on my father, but his hand was also injured, the plane took my cheek, and I feel too afraid to sleep at night.”
Walid Al-Saeed, Yara's father, continued the story, saying: “On the day of the explosion, my daughter fell on a sheet of glass and I hardly found a doctor in the hospital to stitch her. Her face is deformed, and she needs many surgeries; a doctor volunteered to help us. My daughter is the victim of the conflict between political parties and government failure…our hope lies only on the youth who came to help us whereas no official ever came to see how we are doing.”
Yara's mother says: “My daughter is terrified of the sound of the truck, and she is screaming Mom help there is a plane, even as she wakes up in horror, and we all start to panic.” Yara’s story is similar to dozens of stories of Beirut’s children.
Psychotherapist Nicole Hany, a university professor affiliated with UNICEF, confirms: “The calamity was a great psychological shock for children and will leave an imprint inside them forever,” explaining that a recent uptick in mental disorders is accompanied by physical symptoms, such as panic attacks, involuntary urination and difficulty sleeping.
Dr. Sayed Gregg, head of the psychiatric department at Saida Zagharta Hospital, describes the psychological suffering of children after the accident: “Dozens of cases come to us daily, and some of them refuse to respond, and hospitals do not have sufficient preparations to receive these cases, in light of deteriorating conditions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.”
600,000 children need psychological support
“About 600,000 children suffer from psychological disorders due to the explosion, and they need psychological and social support. What happened is a tragedy,” Ted Cheban, Regional Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), told us, stressing that all Beirut children have been affected to varying degrees, as there are 1,000 injured children, with more than 100,000 children directly affected, and another 77,000 students affected after 163 schools have ended their operations. The United Nations is working to provide means of distance learning for these youth, in addition to the restoration of 20 schools and a technical institute within the reconstruction scheme. According to Cheban, an additional $ 38 million in financing is needed.
By the winter season, the fears of 300,000 people is elevating as they lost their homes due to the explosion, according to data from the United Nations and Beirut Governorate. Although the state allocated 150 billion liras for reconstruction, no concrete steps have yet been implemented.
Civil society organizations are working on restore 8,000 housing units, and individual civilians are working on restore an other 8 thousand units. The rest is still destroyed and there are more than 170 buildings threatened to collapse, according to the statements of Imad Wakim, a member of the powerful republican bloc, Beirut's Representative.
Faced with the material inability to repair these homes, or to find an alternative to them, many families have been forced to live among the rubble of their homes, using plastic bags as a substitute for the doors, perhaps concealing a little of their privacy, but it certainly will not succeed in warding off the bitter winter cold for them and their children.
Among them is Nabil Sami, in the Karantina region, who has 4 children. He described his situation, saying: “The explosion destroyed our house, but my children and I are forced to live in the open rubble. We have nowhere else to go. We wish the government would regard the people; we need to cover up from the cold of the coming winter.” !
UN support for reconstruction
Regarding UN support in facing the repercussions of this disaster, Najat Rushdie, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the United Nations in Lebanon, told us, “There are approximately 200,000 housing units directly affected by the explosion -The Emergency Operations Room estimate them as 60,000 units - and repair of those buildings and restoration of homes one of our top priorities, and it is our plan now to provide funds for families whose homes have been completely damaged to secure their shelter, while assessments indicate that homes’ rehabilitation may take up to a year.”
Rushdie explains that Lebanon needs long-term reconstruction assistance, and Beirut needs $ 354.9 million to meet the immediate needs of more than 300,000 people over the next three months.
The Red Cross contributes cash support to 10,000 families, for a period of 7 months, according to statements by George Kettaneh, Secretary-General of the Organization in Lebanon, stressing that the physical and psychological damage is still horrific.He described the day of the explosion, saying: "It was horrific. 2000 wounded were transported and treated during the first 6 hours, and there were victims who sought our help and we could not help them."
In the streets of Beirut, the scene of tents lining both sides of the road astonishes you. After the explosion, those streets turned into a "beehive" to help the afflicted. The most prominent role was that of civil society institutions and youth volunteers, who contributed to removing the rubble and providing psychological support to those affected and reconstruction.
Kamal Sherifan, head of the Women's Democratic Gathering, says, "We provided special support for women. 150,000 women were affected by the blast, among them 81,000 were of childbearing age (from 15 to 49 years old), according to the United Nations Population Fund. We also provided psychiatric support to cases who attempted to commit suicide. The organization contributed to the restoration of houses.
Ramzi Bteish at the Ground Zero Association added, “Many Lebanese give donations to associations because they do not trust the government, and monasteries have opened their doors to receive the homeless.”
At the Martyrs Square, which has become a meeting point for popular gatherings and groups to collect donations and distribute them to needy families, we met Nawal Shehadeh, a housewife and one of the volunteers of the Lebanese People's Relief Association. Despite her living outside Beirut, she comes every day to help the afflicted.
Nawal burst into tears, saying, “There are families who have become homeless, and the government has not provided them with shelter, but the Lebanese people have opened their homes for some of them, we are tired, there is no electricity, food, or health, and many are without work. The people are hungry because of the failed political regime, and so we want to change it. Entirely.”
Beirut's losses..What have the state done?!
The circumstances in which the explosion occurred on August 4 made it all the more painful. Lebanon is mired in its crises, between the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the deterioration of economic conditions, as poverty reached 55%, according to the World Bank, while the unemployment rate rose to almost 65%, according to "International Labor Organization", in addition to political instability in light of the difficult labor of the new government. The explosion cost Beirut’s economy approximately $8 billion according to World Bank estimates.
What happened to people also hit the stone. More than 40,000 buildings destroyed, including 300 archaeological houses needing $500 million to be restored, in addition to 27 hospitals and health care centers damaged, among which only 15 are being rehabilitated, according to Governor of Beirut , Judge Marwan Abud's statments to us, Beirut’s reconstruction may take around 3 years, at a cost of more than $ 5 billion.
Regarding the governorate’s role in facing the repercussions of the disaster, Abud says : “The number of injured people is tremendous, and our capabilities are limited. Therefore, we appeal to the international community to support Lebanon. We have contributed to removing the rubble and counting the affected houses. International organizations provide housing allowances for 3,000 families, and a plan is being drawn up to revitalize the economic cycle of destroyed commercial stores.”
Despite the assertion of those affected by various segments of the absence of the state’s role represented in the relevant bodies and ministries to face these repercussions, the head of the Relief Commission, Major General Muhammad Khair, assured to “Egypt today” that the organization performed its duty as much as possible, provided part of the aid and secured 5,000 homes Citizens donated it for 6 months for the homeless, and we are still exploring the possibility of providing more aid.
The Lebanese army, which temporarily took over the management of the city of Beirut to oversee the reconstruction operation, explains that its mission is to locate support sites and coordinate efforts among actors in the reconstruction process, through the advanced emergency room, stressing that Lebanon is still waiting for international aid to start rebuilding Beirut, while some families are restoring their homes though individual efforts.
Search for the missing people
Colonel Yusef Haidar, commander of the Lebanese Army’s Works Regiment, told us that the area that has been cleared from the port so far is half a million square meters out of a total of 1,400,000 square meters, so farThe remaining area needs about 3 months, In addition to this, the search for the missing began 13 days ago and is still continuing with the help of 900 army personnel and an ongoing search is trying to find another 9 people.
He added," now we are studying, in cooperation with the European Union and the Ministry of the Environment, how to clear landfills to reuse them in building areas that have been destroyed in the port".
Colonel Antoine Doula Bardoni, commander of the French army's land force, as part of the "mission of friendship" operation, confirmed to "Egypt today" that, "France and Lebanon share a historical relationship, which prompted them to provide 3,700 tons of humanitarian aid, and the French army helped to lift the rubble at the port, where about 9,000 tons of debris were removed till now.”
Families of the victims: Where are the results of the investigations?
"HOPE”.. is the name of a plaque painted on one of the walls of Martyrs Square in central Beirut, and next to it, the scene of the families of the victims of the port explosion, protesting the delay in announcing any results of the investigations, demanding that the perpetrators be revealed, carrying signs reading: “No to politicization.. no to wasting the blood of our martyrs”, “Where are the results of the investigations ?!”, and “Oh son, my backbone was broken when I lost you,” .. the last sign was raised by Umm Ahmad, the mother of one of the victims, among the protesters, barely speaking in tears: “My heart is burned. for my son, I want justice for his blood to cool the burning of my heart ache, where are the criminals?” Meanwhile, Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother in the explosion, appealed to the judiciary to reveal the senior employees involved, not to deal with this case passively as with previous corruption cases, and not to bow to pressure.
The sit-ins came while the results of the investigations, while the investigating judge, Faddy Sawwan, awaits the reports of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and French and British experts.
The Lebanese street is overwhelmed with a state of mistrust in the investigations conducted by the Lebanese authorities, despite the participation of foreign investigation teams, and they are calling for an international investigation.
Fouad Siniora, the former prime minister, explains the situation by saying that the local authorities charged with following up the investigations are responsible for the disaster. He adds: “The former heads of government are calling for an international investigation, but the demand is facing opposition by Hezbollah, which raises doubts.”
Siniora asserts: “These materials would not have exploded without lightning strikes, and the observer of events notices the presence of hidden hands behind their arrangement, with the help of internal parties.
Major General Ashraf Rafi, former Minister of Justice, agrees with Siniora, stressing that the international investigation is necessary in light of lacking independence of the judiciary and its exposure to pressure from Hezbollah, which represents the actual authority in the state, noting that all the data confirms Hezbollah's involvement in the case. While Eli Farazli, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said that the port was targeted by Israel to cancel its role as an important center that has an advantage in pan-Arab trade, assuring to us that it was struck and did not explode.
On the other hand, Mansour Fadel, deputy head of the Free Patriotic Movement, believes that the Lebanese judiciary should be given a sufficient opportunity before calling for an international investigation, and at the same time the investigation authorities should expedite exposing their findings to citizens and clarify why the accused are not yet arrested. Ghassan Hasbani, a former deputy prime minister and member of the powerful Republican bloc, revealed that the port administration has suffered from imbalance since the 1990s, and at the time he was a participant in the government, he demanded reforms, but they were not implemented. Hasbani stressed his lack of confidence in the local investigation system.
Who is to be accountable?
Smoke billowing from the port drew several scenarios for the crime of storing ammonium nitrate and the cause of its explosion, but none of them has been resolved so far, despite the prevailing belief among US and European government agencies following up on investigations that the explosion was an accident.
Human Rights Watch organisation warned that political interference accompanied by shortcomings in the judicial system helped politicians suspected of involvement in the crime to escape.
Regarding the authority entrusted with inspecting and controlling the contents of the warehouses, Bassem Qaisi, Director General of the Administration and Investment of Beirut Port, explains: “The port and customs are two separate departments. The port rents the warehouses to merchants or they are used by customs, they are responsible for the decision of storing shipments after being inspected. Concerning Warehouse No. 12 all the concerned authorities knew of its contents, and it was the customs that had access to enter and search.” regarding his expectations regarding the investigations, he says, “The issue is complicated and needs a lot of time, not days as previously announced."
"There are indications that the investigation regarding the port explosion will become international,soon” said Raymond Khoury, Director General of Customs, in brief statements to"Egypt today". Regarding customs authority’s responsibility for this disaster, he says: "The investigations will decide who is responsible and we accept its results".
It was not possible for us to obtain more information from the investigating judge, due to the confidentiality imposed on the case. Sources familiar with the course of these investigations confirm to us that the militant group Hezbollah was involved in bringing and storing the shipment of ammonium nitrate in 2013, using a network of fake companies to buy weapons and dangerous substances, although the party has denied the accusations.
Fears of a repeat of the tragedy
A Lebanese army official - who refused to reveal his identity - told Egypt Today that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been discovered at the port entrance stored since 2004 and 2005, as well as dozens of warehouses containing flammable materials that had been stored more than 15 years ago, he did not specify the exact quantity, stressing that he would announce later the details and how to deal with it.
This poses questions about the guarantees that ensures that the port will cease the continued storage of these dangerous substances!
"Procedures are being taken to ensure the security of the port and warehouses, and they will be announced soon. We are also working on amendments to customs laws, but it is too early to talk about their implementation." Answers Raymond Khoury
" few days ago, we have addressed the customs, army and state security with the presence of containers carrying flammable materials, and we have asked shipping companies to re-ship these containers, and for importers to receive these materials immediately,” said Bassem Al-Qaisi during his statements to us.
Al-Qaisi also noted that importing inflammable materials is not a cause for panic, as all countries in the world import them, since they are used in paints, medicines and other factories. They are flammable and explosive materials, but only in certain circumstances, and the danger lies in the method and duration of storing them.
Lebanon's problems, accumulated over 30 years, cannot be resolved overnight, and the simple people who dream of a quiet and peaceful life see that those who rule Lebanon are the ones who plundered it and brought it to this tragic situation. To reconcile with the people, the country’s leaders must build bridges of trust with it through real reforms that lift injustice from its shoulders.
This article is part of a series of articles on Lebanon by Iman Hanna. Hanna has taken a 30-day trip to monitor the crises in Lebanon and the suffering of the people