A general view shows the site of the 2020 Beirut port explosion. 29 September, 2021. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
On 4 November, Judge Tarek Bitar was forced stop the investigation into last year’s catastrophic blast at the Port of Beirut for the third time this year over a new lawsuit filed against him by a former government official.
The news came after a a Beirut Court of Appeals informed Bitar that Former Public Works Minister Yousef Fenianos had filed a lawsuit against him alleging the judge is “mishandling” the case, adding that the investigation must cease until a ruling is issued.
This marks the 15th lawsuit filed against Bitar since he took over the blast investigation earlier this year.
The port explosion took place on 4 August 2020 after a fire set off 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate unsafely stored in the middle of Beirut for almost six years. A total of 219 people lost their lives, some 7,000 were injured, and more than 250,000 were left homeless.
Since then, no person has been held accountable for the devastation.
Over the last several weeks, Bitar has been facing increased scrutiny over what many consider the politicization of the blast probe, as he has been accused several times of singling out political figures critical of the US while giving a free pass to those who have close relationships with the US embassy, including the current army leadership, as well as most judges and the ministers of justice and defense.
According to an in-depth investigation by The Cradle, Bitar’s political targets say the judge’s own allegations are not comprehensive, but deliberately selective, as his interrogation roster focuses overwhelmingly on personalities belonging to one political affiliation, while unjustifiably excluding officials in the very same posts with opposite political views. Bitar has interrogated former Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Jean Kawahji, for instance, while skipping over current LAF Commander Joseph Aoun, a Washington-favored army man.
Bitar’s questionable actions also led in part to last month’s massacre at the Tayouneh neighborhood in Beirut when a militia allied with the far-right Lebanese Forces party opened fire on supporters of the Hezbollah and Amal Movement parties holding a peaceful sit-in to protest the politicization of the blast probe.