US senators stress need to continue with Beirut port blast inquiry, protect judges

US senators stress need to continue with Beirut port blast inquiry, protect judges
US Senators have called on the Lebanese government to ensure the safety of the judges involved in the Beirut port explosion inquiry, as some have called for an independent investigation all together.
3 min read
02 October, 2021
Investigations have been obstructed for over a year by political factions [Getty]

Members of the US Senate stressed on Saturday the need to continue with the Beirut explosion inquiry as investigations were put on hold following threats made by Shia paramilitary force Hezbollah, as well as a legal complaint by a former minister.

The senators called on the Lebanese government to "preserve the safety of the judges investigating the horrific explosion that rocked the port of Beirut on 4 August last year."

A statement issued by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations expressed concern over Hezbollah’s role in "pushing for the decision to suspend this sensitive investigation." It also stressed the integrity of the judicial investigator in charge of the inquiry, Judge Tarek Bitar, who it said was a "respected judge and served his country for more than a decade."

The Senators called on the Lebanese government to ensure the safety of all judges involved in the case.

Chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Gregory Meeks, expressed his great concern on Friday about the Lebanese government’s caving into political pressures and the suspension of the investigations.

Meeks added that due to persistent politicisation of the case, in May he called for an independent and international investigation to be opened to reveal those responsible.

Wafik Safa, a senior Hezbollah official, reportedly warned Judge Bitar last week that he would be removed from the investigation and that “Hezbollah’s patience was running out” with him.

Local media reports on Friday claimed that the reason Hezbollah resorted to this was because they knew Bitar was preparing to summon officials in the group itself.

Bitar had to suspend his work on Monday after a complaint was submitted against him by former interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, one of the suspects wanted for questioning on suspicion of negligence and maladministration.

If the complaint is upheld, Bitar will be removed from the case. His predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed in February following similar accusations of bias.

Powerful political factions have continued to obstruct the investigations and many political and security officials refuse to be questioned under different excuses.

The powerful blast – caused by the ignition of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at a warehouse - was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

At least 218 people died- the latest being a man who passed away Monday night after being in a coma - and thousands were wounded, some of them several kilometres from the blast site.

Large swathes of the capital were heavily damaged and have undergone slow renovation, allowing residents to gradually return home and businesses to reopen.