Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s call for the dismissal of the judge probing the cataclysmic 2020 blast at Beirut port was ignored by the judiciary.
The probe has been suspended since the beginning of the year after officials, who have been charged in the blast, demanded Judge Tarek Bitar’s dismissal.
In televised remarks on Thursday, Nasrallah alleged that the greatest obstacle in the investigation has been its “politicization”.
He accused “political and media sides of exploiting the calamity for political gain the moment it happened.”
He claimed that some sides have “inhumanely taken advantage of the pain of families to pursue their political goals and the goals of their backers in confronting the resistance and Hezbollah.”
Moreover, Nasrallah said his party has “authentic and military explosives and is in no need for ammonium nitrate to make bombs.”
The blast was caused by the detonation of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored for years at the port, in a densely residential area, with the knowledge of senior officials, including the president.
The greatest obstacle hindering the probe “is the person who is refusing to step down,” continued Nasrallah, referring to Bitar.
He called for returning to “honest judicial work” and for “opening a new line of investigation so that those responsible for the tragedy can be held to account.”
“You must stop politicizing the case if you want to reach the truth,” he remarked.
Nasrallah’s calls were largely dismissed by judicial circles.
A judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Nasrallah’s position is political and “does not bind the investigative judge with anything.”
His remarks will have no impact on the probe, which is being held in complete secrecy, he added.
The port blast and the victims have not been and will not be a means for political extortion and gain, he vowed.
Thousands of protesters marched tearfully in the Lebanese capital on Thursday, marking two years since the explosion, with chants denouncing the government’s failure to uncover the truth behind the blast.
In a grim reminder of the disaster, several grain silos that were left heavily damaged by the blast collapsed on Thursday afternoon, only hundreds of meters from where crowds were gathering at the city’s waterfront.
The blast damaged swathes of the city on Aug 4, 2020, killing at least 220 people. One of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, it was caused by massive stores of ammonium nitrate kept at the site in the port and neglected since 2013.
President Michel Aoun said days after the blast that he had been warned about the chemical stores at the port and asked security chiefs to do what is necessary.
The prime minister at the time also said he had been informed – but no one warned the population about the dangers of the materials.
Shiite Hezbollah and its ally Amal have been the main opponents of the probe, accusing Bitar of bias after he charged senior Amal Movement politicians and sought to question other top security and political officials.
The probe has been stalled for months due to the refusal of an Amal-backed minister to sign an administrative decree.
Families of victims have pressed the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international enquiry and on Thursday protested outside the French embassy in Beirut, urging Paris to back an external investigation.
Speaking alongside demonstrators, Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub said France has blocked efforts to set up an external investigation for political reasons.
In an interview with francophone Lebanese daily L’Orient Le Jour published Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had proposed an international investigation to Lebanese authorities, but that they had opted for a local one instead.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Thursday marked “two years without justice”, and called in a Twitter post for “an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” – a plea echoed by the European Union’s delegation in Beirut.