Lebanese judge investigating Beirut port explosion 2020 resumes investigation | Beirut explosion news
The investigation into the 2020 explosion was delayed for months by legal challenges as well as resistance from organizations.
The Lebanese judge investigating the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion has unexpectedly begun his investigation, after a 13-month suspension due to political opposition to his efforts to question key officials.
The move of Judge Tarek Bitar was reported on Monday by the Lebanese media and several news organizations, which judicial officials called. Bitar has issued new charges against eight senior officials and senior officials, setting dates for their questioning, Reuters news agency reported, citing a legal source.
Bitar also ordered the release of five people arrested shortly after the blast – former port officials Michel Nahoul, Shafiq Merhi and Sami Hussein; a welder of Syrian origin, Ahmad Rajab; and a contractor, Salim Shebli.
The investigation into the explosion that killed 218 people and damaged large areas of Beirut has been destabilized since December 2021 by legal challenges as well as resistance from groups.
Politicians Bitar tried to question, including Hezbollah allies, mounted dozens of legal challenges disputing his right to question them and saying he had exceeded his powers.
The explosion on August 4, 2020, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate left unloaded at the port in 2013, but no senior official to hold him accountable.
Despite the surprising decision, there is still a lot of pressure on Bitar, who the lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh said was “without a doubt” that he would continue to “stop his work”.
“Bitar is fighting against the policy of freedom” in Lebanon, Saghieh said.
In February 2021, Bitar’s predecessor as chief justice was removed from the case after accusing high-level politicians.
Parliament has refused to lift immunity granted to lawmakers, and Bitar’s requests to question top security officials have been rejected.
Senior Bitar politicians sought to interrogate members of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, a key Hezbollah ally, along with Hassan Diab – prime minister at the time of the blast – and top security official Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.
All of them, including former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, have denied wrongdoing, and some say they have immunity from prosecution.
The interior ministry has also failed to implement arrest warrants issued by Bitar, undermining his push for accountability.
A protest against Bitar called Hezbollah and its allies in October 2021 led to deadly violence.
Lebanon’s judiciary, where positions depend heavily on political patronage, has long been susceptible to political influence.
Many families of explosion victims, human rights groups, and legal activists continue to support Bitar, saying he has set a precedent for accountability and justice in Lebanon.