BEIRUT (Agencies): Lebanon observed a day of mourning on Friday to remember the victims of the devastating port explosion that rocked Beirut three years ago. According to Reuters, religious leaders and human rights groups expressed their dismay over the lack of accountability among political leaders, who have hindered the official investigation into the incident.

The catastrophic explosion occurred on August 4, 2020, when hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse detonated just after 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), claiming the lives of at least 220 people and injuring thousands more, as it sent a massive cloud over the city.

Despite the widespread destruction and loss of lives, no high-ranking officials have been held responsible, and the investigation has faced numerous obstacles, fueling anger and frustration both within Lebanon and internationally.

Survivors and families of the victims expressed their anguish, feeling stuck in the tragedy of 2020. Rita Hitti, who lost her 26-year-old son, 34-year-old brother-in-law, and 21-year-old nephew – all firefighters who responded to the fire at the port and lost their lives in the explosion – shared her heartbreak with Reuters, stating that their lives were cut short, and their loved ones continue to suffer.

In the aftermath of the blast, many businesses, shops, and restaurants that were obliterated have been painstakingly rebuilt, attracting tourists and Lebanese expatriates. However, on the anniversary of the blast, the bustling streets were empty, and businesses remained closed to observe the national day of mourning.

Amnesty International, a rights group, strongly criticized the lack of accountability, calling it unacceptable that no one has been held responsible for the tragedy. Amnesty’s deputy Director for the region, Aya Majzoub, condemned the authorities for obstructing the domestic investigation and perpetuating a culture of impunity in the country.

The explosion is believed to have been triggered by a fire in a warehouse where the chemicals were stored since 2013, despite senior officials being aware of their presence. However, no one has claimed ownership of the shipment.

The investigation, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has faced delays since late 2021, as legal complaints have been filed against him by some of the suspects, including current and former officials.

During a memorial church service on the eve of the blast anniversary, Lebanon’s top Christian cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, supported calls for an international fact-finding committee and urged an end to interference in the blast probe. He expressed deep concern over the indifference of state officials preoccupied with personal interests and neglecting the pain of the affected families.

The explosion occurred amid Lebanon’s existing challenges, including a financial crisis that began in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s economy has further deteriorated, with the local currency losing 98% of its value, and many families have been plunged into poverty.

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