Lebanon marked the first anniversary of the massive Beirut Port explosion on Wednesday, as families of the victims continue to demand justice and accountability.
Most families have expressed their dismay that, one year later, it remains unclear who brought and improperly stored the large shipment of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion.
“The families of the victims started their day today by visiting the graves of their beloved,” said Ibrahim Hoteit, representative of the port victims.
According to Hoteit’s records, some 218 people were killed in the blast. Several official records have put the death toll at just more than 190.
Lebanon has declared a national day of mourning to commemorate the anniversary of the disaster, which also wounded some 6,000 people and displaced 300,000 more.
Shops, banks and businesses were closed, while government buildings flew their flags at half mast.
“It is a sad day for all the Lebanese – despite surviving this massive explosion we are dead inside,” said onlooker Rita Hassan, who stood holding a symbolic white rose near Beirut port.
Streets across the capital were deserted, while tight security measures were adopted near the port area.
“Since yesterday I started feeling pain all over my body as if the scars of my wounds have opened again,” Enaam Kayal, who was severely wounded in the blast, told dpa.
Kayal, who had more than 200 stitches all over her body, recently had to postpone planned eye surgery due to a lack of funding.
Hospitals that were severely damaged in the blast and lost some of their staff also held private masses inside their premises to mourn the dead.
The families of the victims plan to march to the port, where a mass will held at the exact time of the blast, at 6:07 pm (1507 GMT).
In the Vatican, meanwhile, Pope Francis called upon the international community to help Lebanon.
Concrete gestures are important, rather than words, Francis told a general audience of a few hundred faithful. He expressed his thoughts for the victims, their families, the many injured and those who had lost their home or work.
Francis was speaking ahead of an international aid conference on Lebanon, organized by France. The videoconference aims at supporting the civilian population in the crisis-ridden country.
French President Emmanuel Macron, US President Joe Biden, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, European Council President Charles Michel and Lebanese President Michel Aoun are due to participate, as well as Lebanese civil society representatives.
The victims’ families threatened on Monday to escalate their protest at the slow pace of the investigation into the blast.
They also called on parliament to lift the immunity of lawmakers and Lebanese security officials whom they accuse of negligence.
“From the depth of my conscience, I say to our beloved capital, Beirut, the truth will emerge and every guilty person will receive his punishment and you will rise again,” Aoun said in a televised speech late on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that the investigation into the explosion had failed to meet international standards. It called on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international, independent probe.
Earlier on Wednesday, Maas said the situation in Lebanon had hardly improved for many of those affected.
“One year after the explosion in the port of Beirut, the extent of the destruction remains devastating and the background to this disaster remains unclear,” Maas said in a statement.
He said the lack of progress in forming a government or implementing urgently needed reforms was “irresponsible,” in view of the deteriorating economic situation.
Maas said sanctions introduced by the European Union in a bid to put pressure on politicians in Lebanon to act were “correct and necessary.”
The EU again called on the Lebanese authorities to deliver results in the ongoing investigation into the causes of the blast.
Lebanon’s political leaders should also “set their differences aside and quickly form a government with a strong mandate to address the current economic, financial and social crises,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.