MOSCOW (AP) — Lebanon’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Russia has delivered satellite images of the Port of Beirut on the day of last year’s devastating blast, which he said could help figure out what happened.
Abdallah Bouhabib is visiting Moscow. He was speaking after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“We thanked and highly appreciate receiving satellite images for the blast at Beirut Port on Aug. 4, 2020 and we will hand them over to the Lebanese judiciary, hoping that can help in revealing the truth of this tragedy that has hit Lebanon,” Bouhabib said during a press conference.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said it would provide the satellite images after a request from Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Lavrov said he hoped the images help in the investigation.
He said that the images showed the port of Beirut before the blast and also the scene after the blast.
“Roscosmos experts said it should help specialists figure out what happened based on the character of destruction,” Lavrov said.
“Let’s hope that the Lebanese experts, probably with the help of foreign colleagues, will sort out this issue that has become a serious political irritant for Lebanon,” he said. “We would like to help resolve it as quickly as possible.”
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the Beirut port for years. On Aug. 4, 2020, the fertilizer ignited, causing a massive blast that killed over 216 people and injured more than 6,000, while destroying parts of the city.
It was described as one of the worst non-nuclear explosions in the world. But more than a year later, it is still unknown what triggered the initial fire that caused the explosion, who was responsible for storing the material in the port, and why it stayed there for so long.
The probe investigating the blast has been snagged in domestic political disputes and Lebanese officials have either questioned the integrity of the judge carrying out the investigation or refused to cooperate with him.
Judge Tarek Bitar is the second judge to lead the investigation after the first one was removed by a court order following similar accusations leveled against him. Politicians, many who knew of the fertilizers’ presence at the port, accuse the judge of bias or of politicizing the probe.
Bitar has requested countries with satellites stationed over Lebanon to provide authorities with images taken before and after the explosion that could help the investigation.