Investigations into the massive explosion in Beirut last year have been slow as observers say interference from the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Lebanon has narrowly survived two attempts to remove Judge Tarek Bitter. The latest was Monday when a court dismissed complaints against Bitter, but Hezbollah continued to oppose him and the investigation he is investigating. Observers say a genuine national front is needed to confront the obstacles posed by Hezbollah to get Lebanon back on track to launch the necessary economic and political reforms.
Bitter has faced backlash from powerful Lebanese factions trying to block its investigation into the August 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Reports said that a large amount of ammonium nitrate – commonly used to make fertilizer or bombs – had been kept there unsecured for years.
Three former interior, finance and transport ministers are defendants in the case and affiliated with the country’s powerbroker Hezbollah. He tried to remove Bitter from the investigation as he tried to interrogate him. Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Bitar of “politicising” a position considered neutral. Hezbollah security officer Wafiq Safa warned the judge that if the group did not like their legal work, they would be fired.
He will be the second judge to be sacked.
Dania Kolilat Khateeb, political analyst with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, told VOA she believes Hezbollah is threatening to remove Bitter.
“Hezbollah always tries to intimidate because maybe he is going to reveal something that they do not want to disclose. So they’re trying to stop that,” she said. “Did they accumulate nitrates? Didn’t they store it? The fact that they asked him to stop and sent him the message that they really felt threatened by the investigation. ”
Another former interior minister, Ahmed Fatafat, told the Saudi Arabian news daily that Hezbollah’s actions show that it is afraid of what is happening.
“Hezbollah accuses all those who disagree with it of treason, while admits that it receives its orders and money from Iran,” Fatfat said. He said that unless a genuine national front was established to confront the party, the country would come under Iranian occupation.
Many Lebanese, especially the families of the more than 200 blast victims, are outraged that no senior official has been held responsible for the tragedy for more than a year.
The position of Bitter is critical,” said analyst Dania Kolilat Khatib. “The Lebanese people are so demoralized. When I saw the parents of those who died on August 4, someone was speaking by their name, they said, ‘We don’t believe in the government, the judiciary has shown us that despite everything, justice still prevails’. can emerge’ and this is very important. This is where the international community, the EU, the US should support someone like Bitter; It must be ensured that he is not subjected to political pressure and must send a very strong message to anyone, not only to Hezbollah, that if anyone touches him, they will be subject to very severe punishment.
The investigation has been the subject of international criticism.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the Lebanese authorities of obstructing justice and harsh disregard for the families of the victims as the investigation continues.