A judge investigating the 2020 Beirut port explosion unexpectedly resumed questioning government officials after more than a year paralyzed by political resistance to questioning them. Reuters report.
The surprise decision was confirmed on Monday by multiple judicial sources, one of whom investigator Judge Tarek Vitar had filed new charges against eight senior and mid-level officials, but identified them. said he didn’t.
An investigation into the explosion that killed 220 people and shattered Beirut had been derailed by legal challenges and resistance from factions including the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah.
“It[reopening the investigation]was a beautiful shock, but I want to make sure no one is standing in his way,” said William Known, who lost his brother in the explosion. Reuters.
“We are very happy now,” said Mariana Fadulian, who lost her sister in the blast.
The August 4, 2020 explosion was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate left unloaded at the port in 2013, but officials were not held accountable.
According to sources, Bitar ordered the release of five people detained immediately after the explosion. Ahmad Rajab, a welder from Syria, and Salim Shevri, a contractor.
Politician Bitar, including Hezbollah allies, has filed dozens of legal complaints, challenging his right to interrogate them, saying he has trampled his power.
The investigation was paralyzed by the retirement of a judge from the court in early 2022.
The court was awaiting the appointment of a new judge to resume its work – officials have taken no steps.
Judicial sources say Bittar has resumed work under legal interpretations that challenge the grounds for the suspension.
Analysts See New Tensions
Hezbollah campaigned against Bittar as he questioned its allies and accused Washington of interfering in the investigation. Hezbollah leader Syed Hassan Nasrallah called for his replacement.
Anti-Baitar protests called by Hezbollah and its allies in October 2021 have escalated into deadly violence.
Deputy editor-in-chief Nabil Bumonsef said the reopening of the investigation “will certainly increase tensions in the country as factions that were opposed to his move will cause hell and oppose again.” Anaher newspaper.
Vitar met French judge visiting Beirut As part of an investigation into the explosions launched by the French Public Prosecutor’s Office last week, as a French national was among the casualties.
A senior Lebanese judicial source said the documents could not be shared because the investigation was frozen.
Among the senior politicians Bittar sought to interrogate were the Speaker of Parliament, a key ally of Hezbollah, Nabih Berri’s Amal movement, Hassan Diab, prime minister at the time of the bombing, and Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the top security official. was included.
All of them, including former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Gazi Zaita, have denied any wrongdoing and are immune from prosecution, some say.
The Lebanese judiciary, which relies heavily on political support for appointments, has long been prone to political influence.
In November, Lebanon’s highest-ranking judge said political interference in judicial affairs had created a chaotic situation requiring a “revolution in approach” to resolve.
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20230123-judge-unexpectedly-resumes-frozen-beirut-blast-investigation/ Judge unexpectedly reopens frozen Beirut bombing investigation – Middle East Monitor