Families and relatives of Beirut port blast victims protested the renewed suspension of probe into the case. For a second time, the judge faced removal today, two days after the halt.
Relatives of the victims of last year’s controversial blast in Beirut Port launched opposition campaigns against the suspension of probe into the incident. The protesters stressed that the probe is a final chance for administration to prove its reliability towards public interests.
Hundreds of protestors congregated near Beirut’s Palace of Justice to denounce senior political leaders for seeking to remove main investigator to the probe. Following the announcement of a suspension of probe two days earlier, Judge Tarek Bitar was removed from the case.
The Demonstrators held up photos of loved ones who died in the blast in 2020. Among the protesters was a 17-year-old who lost her father Joseph in the blast. Merhi’s father was a worker at Port still working on the job at the time of blast.
“If we don’t demand the truth then we won’t ever know what happened to the victims. We support Judge Bitar and want him to continue leading the investigation,” she told the reporters.
Other family members of victims also called for a probe into the failure of any achievement in the investigations. The victims’ relatives have lost faith in the administrative and judicial system of Lebanon during the past year.
Lebanese president released a statement today expressing his support for the probe’s completion. Michel Aoun formerly confessed knowing about the deadly ammonium nitrate pile in the port reservoir. “The investigation must continue for the guilty to be convicted and the innocent to be acquitted,” part of the statement read.
The continuous suspension of probe, however, seems to exhaust the hopes for the case to reach a conclusion.
Recurrent Suspension of Probe
The investigation into the Beirut port blast was subject to another round of halt two days ago. It occurred after a previous Interior Minister formally informed the investigator Bitar of his plea to be removed from the probe. Nouhad Machnouk is one of the main suspects in the case, alleged with dereliction of duty in connection with the port disaster.
Last Monday, Machnouk, a serving MP, along with the former Public Works Minister, demanded that Bitar be removed from the blast inquiry. They accused Bitar of prejudice and wrongdoing in the process of investigations.
Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeiter, both former cabinet members of Lebanon, filed a judicial case late last year against the former Judge to the case too. Judge Fadi Sawan faced the accusations on the basis of “legitimate suspicion.”
Fadi Sawan faced allegations regarding his inability to launch an impartial investigation. Their reasoning was that Sawan’s own house was destroyed in the blast. Two months later, Sawan resigned, or was forced to resign, from the probe.
Bitar accused a number of former cabinet members and top security officers of criminal dereliction around three months ago. Among them is Finianos, who had failed to accept the interrogation. Among others are Hassan Diab, the former Prime Minister, Nohad Machnouk, and Zeiter.
Bitar also accused retired generals, including previous army commander General Jean Kahwaji. A former chief of military intelligence Brigadier was also named in the suspect list.
Bitar had also summoned senior security officers Major-General Abbas Ibrahim and Major-General Tony Saliba for interrogation just hours before suspension of probe. The influence of the military chiefs may have impacted the process of investigations.
Amid the sharp economic downfall, the suspension of probe into Beirut port blast turned into a new crisis in the desperate Lebanese society.