Beirut, Lebanon – The lead investigator of the Beirut Port blast probe summoned two charged ex-ministers again as Lebanese leaders continue to mount pressure on him.
Judge Tarek Bitar on Tuesday scheduled interrogations with former ministers Nouhad Machnouk and Ghazi Zeiter on October 29. Both are currently sitting members of parliament.
Zeiter and Machnouk were both scheduled for questioning last week before the investigation was temporarily suspended. Bitar also has a pending session with Prime Minister Hasan Diab on October 28.
He has also charged and pursued ex-ministers Ali Hasan Khalil and Yousef Finianos. He issued arrest warrants for both, but they have not yet been implemented.
The four former ministers have repeatedly filed legal complaints to remove Bitar from the investigation, which have been rejected or remain pending.
The blast probe was temporarily suspended on two occasions, which legal experts said was a stalling tactic before parliament is in session again so that those under investigation can claim parliamentary immunity.
Lebanese leaders, most notably Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, continue to call for Bitar’s removal, and accuse him of being biased and his moves politically motivated.
Last Thursday, during a Beirut protest of Hezbollah and Amal supporters calling for Bitar’s removal, unidentified gunmen opened fire, turning the protest into hours-long armed confrontations. Seven combatants and civilians died.
Many families of the blast victims, human rights organisations, and legal activists continue to back Bitar, saying he has set a precedent for accountability and justice in Lebanon.
Entire neighbourhoods in Beirut were destroyed in the explosion on August 4, 2020, after a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated.
More than 200 people were killed and about 6,500 injured. An estimated 300,000 people were also left homeless in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. No officials have been convicted.