Investigation into Beirut Port Explosion Suspended for Second Time

The investigation into the deadly blast in Beirut last year has been suspended on Sept. 27 for the second time after a former minister wanted for questioning filed a complaint.

Tarek Bitar, the lead judge investigating the blast, had to pause his work until a court rules on whether to replace him after former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk complained about Bitar’s impartiality, a court official told AFP News on condition of anonymity.

Machnouk is one of the top officials suspected of negligence for the port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020 that killed at least 218 people, injured 7,000 others, destroyed parts of Beirut, and deepened Lebanon’s economic crisis.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he hoped the court would reject the suspension because Lebanon “can’t handle another judge being removed.”

If Bitar is removed from the investigation, he would become the second after the Court of Cassation removed his predecessor Fadi Sawan from the case last February, following similar complaints from former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zaiter.

Sawan had charged Khalil, Zaiter, then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and another former Public Works Minister Youssef Finyanus with negligence in relation to the blast.

The latest suspension sparked condemnation from human rights groups and families of the victims.

Aya Majzoub from Human Rights Watch told AFP News that the suspensions were “brazen obstructions of justice” and that they “should be a wake up call to the international community to authorize an international fact-finding mission.”

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Lynn Maalouf called the second suspension “a callous disregard for the rights of the victims, survivors, and their families.”

The United Nations Security Council called for “a swift, independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation.”

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