Families of Beirut blast child victims demand justice a year on

August 4, 2020, began as a mundane morning for Samer Tibati, a Syrian worker from Lattakia, living in the semi-industrial Karantina neighbourhood near the Beirut port.

Later that day, the devastating Beirut port explosion tore through the neighbourhood, badly wounding the seven-year-old girl. He ran to her, cradled her in his arms, and tried to find someone to take them to a hospital.

Tibati hopped on the back of a motorcycle driver who offered them a ride. It took hours until they found a hospital that had room for Bissan.

“It looked like pieces of shrapnel from a bomb pierced into her,” Tibati recalled. “The doctors said it was critical, but I would keep asking every day if she could get better.”

Seven days later, Bissan died.

The explosion killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and flattened several neighbourhoods in the Lebanese capital. Bissan was one of at least seven children killed in the disaster; the youngest was just five months old.

“I have a portrait of her on the wall, and I look at her while I have my morning coffee,” Tibati said. “And then I hear her voice saying ‘Dad, please help me,’ but I can’t help her.”

One year later, Tibati is still in a world of pain. He still struggles to hold back his tears whenever he talks about his daughter. “Look how lovely she is,” he said as his voice trembled, scrolling through dozens of photos and videos of her on his phone. “She was just a child.”

Tibati had left Syria five years before the explosion to secure a safer life for Bissan and his two-year-old son Hassan. Instead, he faced one of the worst days of his life in Beirut. He is worried that his wife and Hassan could meet a similar fate, because he fears something similar could happen again.

“I already lost my daughter, and I’m not willing to lose the rest of my family,” he said.

As Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the port explosion on Wednesday, grieving families who lost their children continue to demand truth and justice in vain.

The explosion was caused by the ignition of tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, stored in a port warehouse filled with other hazardous material since 2014.

But rights groups and families of victims accuse officials of obstructing the probe into the explosion, which has so far been failed to hold high-level officials to account or reveal the exact causes of the disaster.

Officials have so far rejected lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar’s requests to lift the immunity of several high-ranking lawmakers and security chiefs so they can be questioned on the suspicion of criminal negligence, as well as homicide with probable intent.

The officials include caretaker Prime Minister Hasan Diab, ex-Public Works and Transport Ministers Yousef Finianos and Ghazi Zeiter, ex-Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, and ex-Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, as well as General Security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

Meanwhile, Lebanon has been without a full-fledged government for almost a year, after Diab resigned in the wake of the explosion.

And while political leaders wriggle their way out of accountability and bicker over ministries and political positions in almost a year of government deadlock, the families who lost their children and loved ones grieve their deaths.

‘I want everyone to know who Elias was’

“For me, life has stopped,” Mireille Khoury told Al Jazeera. Her 15-year-old son, Elias, was in his bedroom just a few hundred metres from the port as the building shook and glass blew out the windows. He succumbed to his wounds two weeks later.

“They destroyed our family,” Khoury said.

Elias’s classmates gathered at his high school and carried his coffin as they bid him farewell. They continue to pay tribute to him on social media. “Our grief is the price of loving such a beautiful spirit,” one post read.


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