Public anger over freezing investigation into Beirut port blast. Alleged threats by Hezbollah to judge Bitar

BEIRUT – In response to Lebanese politicians’ obstructing and stalling the investigation and judicial process led by investigative judge Tariq Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, families of the victims of the explosion held a sit-in right in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut to demand the fair continuation of the investigation. Friends and relatives raised banners that read “We will not forget,” “Let the Nitrate Regime fall,” and “We will stay behind you until justice is achieved.”

News Agency Reuters reports that the decision to freeze the investigation comes after Sunni Muslim lawmaker and former interior minister Nohad Machnouk (Future Bloc) filed a legal complaint after judge Bitar called him in for questioning on suspicion of negligence. The freezing of the Beirut port investigation (for the second time) was met with international condemnation. The French Foreign Ministry expressed its regret to suspend the investigation and declared in a statement published by the French Embassy in Beirut; “This is unfortunate, the Lebanese have the right to know the truth and the perpetrators of the explosion,” read the statement, adding that Lebanese justice must work transparently and fully away from political interventions.

According to Reuters, a prominent official of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon told judge Bitar that Hezbollah will remove him from the investigation. Reuters said that Bitar reported this matter in a letter to the discriminatory general prosecutor. As evidence of this, journalist LBCI Lara al-Hashem stated that she met with the Hezbollah official at the Palace of Justice, and he asked her to convey an threatening oral message to Bitar if she met him.

Despite al-Hashem’s refusal to disclose the message, her LBCI colleague Edmond Sassine, via Twitter, too reported that Hezbollah has sent a threat to judge Bitar. The Hezbollah message stated that Hezbollah is fed up with Bitar, and that if he does not acquiesce legally, Hezbollah will remove him by force.

In related news, the U.S. Treasury announced that the U.S. government in cooperation with the Qatari government imposed sanctions on an international network linked to Hezbollah, including on two citizens from Qatar, and others in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Palestine.