On 10 December 2020, a judge charged Prime Minister (PM) Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with “negligence and causing death to hundreds and injuries to thousands more” over the Beirut explosion on 4 August, which destroyed Beirut’s port, killed at least 200 people, and injured at least 5,000 more. The Beirut explosion, along with the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis was devastating to Lebanon and its people. Ammonium nitrate stored in warehouses in the Port of Beirut for six years had caught on fire and exploded, causing extensive damage in the capital. The United States Geological Survey equated the blast to a 3.3-magnitude earthquake. A similar explosion occurred in 2013, when the chemical was improperly stored from a Moldovan-flagged MV Rhosus ship.
After the blast, it was revealed to the public that security officials and politicians were aware of the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Warehouse 12, as well as the conditions in which it was stored for years. The three other prime ministers who were in office since the containers of ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut in 2013, Najib Mikati, Tammam Salam and Saad Hariri, reported that they did not know it was there. It is not possible for any of these individuals and PM Diab to not have known the kind of danger that comes with this amount of the chemical in that condition. These individuals completely disregarded the lives and safety of their citizens. Ammonium nitrate, when stored safely, is not a dangerous chemical and is used in nitrogen fertilizers, but can explode violently when it catches a spark.
Judge Fadi Sawan, the lead investigator for this incident, is set to question those charged. PM Diab and his cabinet stepped down after the blast with a “clear conscience and… confident of his integrity” in handling the matter according to a statement from PM Diab’s office on 10 December. A new cabinet will soon be formed. The ex-ministers charged were ex-finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and former public works ministers Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Fenianos. Khalil and Fenianos were sanctioned by the United States Trump administration for ties to Hezbollah, a Shiite paramilitary and political group.
Lebanese citizens deserve answers and change for their safety and wellness, and need a new government that will work to serve them and their best interests. As the investigation continues, more will be revealed to the citizens on the depth of this negligence.
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