| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric says judge probing port blast must be allowed to pursue truth

The Maronite Patriarch in Lebanon demanded on Sunday that the judge who is trying to examine the fatal blast at the Beirut port be allowed to continue his job and receive assistance from any outside authority.

Since Judge Tarek Bitar filed charges against some of Lebanon’s most powerful figures, ignoring political pressure to drop the probe into the accident that claimed 220 lives, long-simmering tensions over the case have erupted.

With friends and allies of Lebanon’s most powerful factions, including Hezbollah, among those charged, the establishment struck back swiftly last week when the prosecutor general charged Bitar with usurping powers.

Critics called it “a coup” against his investigation.

“We hope investigating Judge Tareq Bitar continues his work to uncover the truth and issue a decision and get help from any international authority that can help disclose the truth…,” Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, influential patriarch of Lebanon’s largest Christian community, said in a sermon.

The Aug. 4, 2020 blast was caused by hundreds of tonnes of improperly stored chemicals of which the president and prime minister at the time were aware, among other officials.

Bitar resumed his inquiry on Jan. 23 after a 13-month break caused by legal wrangling and high-level political pressure, issuing charges against a number of senior officials including top public prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat.

Oweidat rejected Bitar’s move and filed charges against him for allegedly mishandling the inquiry, as well as ordering the release of people detained in connection with the blast.

Rai has long said that Lebanon’s judiciary should be free of political interference and sectarian activism.

“We won’t allow however long it takes and rulers change to let the crime of the port pass without punishment.”

  • Reuters