Middle East

Beirut pauses to remember the dead one week after catastrophic explosion

The shattered city of Beirut on Tuesday marked a week since the catastrophic explosion that killed at least 171 people, injured thousands and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.

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Thousands of people marched near the devastated port, remembering those who died in the most destructive single blast to hit the country.

They observed a minute of silence at 6:08 p.m. local time, the moment on Aug. 4 that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the city's port where it had been stored for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials.

Beirut explosion: Moment of silence held for victims of blast

At that moment Tuesday, church bells tolled and mosque loudspeakers recited a call to prayer.

Hundreds marched through the streets of the hard-hit neighborhood of Gemayze carrying portraits of the dead before a candlelight vigil after dusk near the port.

“He knew,” read a poster bearing President Michel Aoun's picture.

Aoun, in office since 2016, said Friday he was first told of the dangerous stockpile nearly three weeks ago and immediately ordered military and security agencies to do “what was needed.” But he suggested his responsibility ended there, saying he had no authority over the port.

“Im very furious, Im enraged, Im angry, Im sad. Im hopeless,” said Anthony Semaan, in his 20s, who said he came to pay respects to the victims.

Like others, he said the governments resignation makes makes no difference.

“First of all, there are questions that need to be answered. And second, there are other rats that need to be brought down first, and when they are brought down then maybe we can start thinking about the future,” he added.

Young people carried placards, each one printed with the names of one dead in a red and a green cedar, Lebanons national symbol, and sat on stairs in the Gemayze district, facing the port. Elsewhere in the city, burials of the dead continued.

Outrage against political leaders

The explosion has fueled outrage against top political leaders and security agencies, and led to the resignation of the government on Monday. In the wake of the disaster, documents have come to light that show that top Lebanese officials knew about the existence of the stockpile in the heart of Beirut near residential areas, and did nothing about it.

Aoun later pledging "to all Lebanese who are in pain that I will not be silent and will not rest until the facts are revealed." He said in his tweet that referring the case to the Supreme Judicial Council is only the first step.

Beirut protesters clash with police outside Lebanon's parliament

It still wasn't clear what caused the fire in a port warehouse that triggered the explosion of the chemicals, which created a shock wave so powerful it was felt as far away as the island of Cyprus more than 200 kilometers (180 miles) across the Mediterranean.

“From one minute to the next, the world changed for people in Beirut,” said Basma Tabaja, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's delegation in Lebanon. The organization said

Outgoing Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the blast killed a total of 171 people, with between 30 and 40 still missing. Of the injured, 1,500 needed special treatment while 120 remain in intensive care, he said.

The explosion damaged thousands of apartments and offices in the capital. It comes amid an unprecedented economic and financial crisis facing the country since late last year.

U.N. food agency head David Beasley, who said a day earlier he is “very, very concerned” Lebanon could run out of bread in about two and a half weeks, told The Associated Press that the World Food Program was looking at all options to make certain there is no interruptions in the food supply.

“Were looking at the port of Tripoli. Were looking at all other options, trucking food in, as well as shipping food in, flying food in, whatever it takes,” Beasley said. "Obviously, we want to get the port operating as quickly as possible because thats the cheapest way to feed the most people."

Meanwhile, efforts to form a new government got underway a day after Read More – Source