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The parents of the Beirut blast victim wage a lonely fight for justice

#parents #Beirut #blast #victim #wage #lonely #fight #justice

Paul and Tracy Naggear have lived in grief since the massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital in 2020 killed their three-year-old daughter, and their anger boils over the stalled investigation.

The Aug. 4 mega-explosion, attributed to a fire that ignited tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored haphazardly in the port of Beirut for years, was one of the largest non-nuclear detonations on record.

It destroyed thousands of homes, including the couple’s apartment, which overlooked the harbor. Her daughter Alexandra was one of the youngest among the more than 200 dead.

Failed attempts to hold accountable the state officials whose negligence is widely blamed for Lebanon’s worst peacetime disaster have made Alexandra’s death even more bitter.

“Our sadness is not the same, it continues to grow as time goes by we miss Alexandra and feel her absence,” said Tracy, 36.

“Although we can learn to live with sadness, there is fear and anger that continues to grow,” she told AFP news agency ahead of the second anniversary of the tragedy Thursday in the absence of justice.

Paul and Tracy left Beirut and settled in the mountain town of Beit Mery, ten kilometers away, after the blast.

The walls and shelves of her house are decorated with pictures of Alexandra.

Like hundreds of relatives of blast victims, they received no answers from the top. And as the investigation has stalled, not a single officer has been brought to justice.

“In the beginning we were hopeful” about the fight for justice, Tracy said. “But now we feel alone.”

– ‘Exhausting’ –

The port blast – which could be heard as far away as the island of Cyprus – briefly ignited public anger against a ruling class that had already erupted in a protest movement in 2019.

The demonstrations were stunned by a severe economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic before the monster explosion was a stark reminder of the country’s leadership’s negligence.

After the disaster, Lebanon’s ruling elite drew even more public ire by interfering in a local investigation aimed at uncovering guilt.

Lead investigator Tarek Bitar, who has been pursuing some of the country’s top politicians, has been prevented from proceeding by a series of lawsuits filed by political leaders since last year.

The lawsuits against Bitar are part of a broader campaign led by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which is demanding his replacement and accusing him of bias.

“It’s exhausting living in a country that lacks justice,” Paul said. On a shelf behind him was a painting of his daughter raising a Lebanese flag during the 2019 protests.

“The criminals will not prosecute themselves,” he added.

The only way justice can be done for the grieving father is through an international reconnaissance mission – a demand from many relatives and rights groups.

The stalled domestic investigation has seen a drop in public mobilization as only relatives of blast victims take part in demonstrations demanding accountability.

“Unfortunately, we feel like people have either lost hope or gotten lazy,” Paul said.

– ‘Until death’ –

MP Melhem Khalaf, former head of the Beirut Bar Association, has tried to challenge official impunity.

During its time at the head of the Beirut Bar Association, the association helped 1,200 families affected by the blast to file lawsuits against the state.

But both domestic and external factors have hampered official investigations.

Khalaf said international powers have not yet provided Lebanon with satellite imagery or reports prepared by foreign experts who took part in preliminary investigations.

Back in Beit Mery, the living room is full of pictures of Alexandra – as well as the belongings of Tracy’s baby son Axel, who was born in March.

Tracy took Axel to a protest organized by the victims’ families last month.

“August 4th is going to be a big part of his life,” Tracy said of her son.

“We will fight for truth and justice until our death. But if we die first, I want Axel to take things further.”

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