The Long Road to Accountability

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A Lebanese judge charged a number of politicians and high-ranking officials this week with homicide for their alleged role in the port explosion that rocked Lebanon’s capital Beirut in 2020, Reuters reported.

On Monday, Judge Tarek Bitar abruptly resumed an investigation that had been stalled for more than a year due to political opposition and legal challenges filed by top officials he was set to question.

The judge has charged former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and some of his former officials with homicide with probable intent. Diab was Lebanon’s prime minister at the time of the explosion.

On Aug. 4, 2020, an explosion ripped through Beirut that destroyed multiple buildings and killed more than 200 people. The blast was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at Beirut’s port in poor conditions since its unloading in 2013. So far, no senior official has been held to account.

Bitar has also called for the questioning of prosecutor general Ghassan Oweidat and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s domestic intelligence at the time of the incident. It was not immediately clear what the officials are accused of.

Judicial sources said Bitar has been scheduled to question 15 people in the next month.

They added that the judge was able to resume work on the basis of a legal resolution to the challenge from the plaintiffs.

Bitar’s investigation froze in early 2022 following major pushback from Lebanon’s political factions, including Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has campaigned against Bitar for questioning its supporters, and it has also accused the US of interfering in the investigation.

Analysts believe that because the judiciary is divided on whether Bitar should be permitted to restart his investigation, some of his rulings may go unimplemented.

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