BEIRUT — Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem on Saturday launched a new diatribe against the head of the investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion, Judge Tarek Bitar, saying he poses a “real problem” for Lebanon and that it would be “better if he recused himself, so that the situation can stabilize” in the country.
Here’s what we know:
• “Today, Judge Bitar poses a real problem for Lebanon,” Qassem said at a graduation ceremony in Haret Hreik. According to Hezbollah’s No. 2, the judge shows “cronyism and blatantly politicizes the investigation” to the extent that “families of victims now have suspicions” about him.
• The former spokesman for a group of the families of the victims of the port explosion, Ibrahim Hoteit, released a series of videos last week disavowing the judge and adopting some of the language Hezbollah uses in relation to the probe. Some viewers believe the videos were filmed under duress. Since then, some groups of victims’ families have disassociated themselves from Bitar.
• The Shiite party the Amal Movement aligns with Hezbollah in calling for Bitar’s departure. The parties accuse the judge of targeting only leaders of their political camp in his prosecution. However, the judge has summoned political, security and judicial officials of various affiliations and has set several dates to question the MPs and former ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Nohad Machnouk, as well as the former Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
• Bitar’s blast probe is also at the center of a governmental crisis, with Shiite ministers demanding the government take measures regarding the judge. Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said he will not convene a cabinet until a solution is found.
• Qassam went on to say it was “because of Bitar” that the country risked civil strife following the clashes that erupted in the Tayyouneh area of Beirut on Oct. 14 on the sidelines of a demonstration organized by Amal and Hezbollah to protest the “politicization” of Bitar’s probe. The gunfight left seven people dead and more than 30 wounded. “If we cannot have any hope that this judge, who has caused problems and disasters, will not do his job in a fair way, it would be better if he recused himself so that the situation can be stabilized and people can know the truth” about the Aug. 4 tragedy, Qassem said.
• Qassem also launched new accusations against Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces regarding the clashes in Tayyouneh, saying that LF supporters were “ready [and] reinforced by snipers,” and that they “opened fire on a peaceful demonstration.” He stressed that his party “will follow the investigation [into the Tayyouneh incident] and its results so that the culprits are punished in accordance with the provisions of the Lebanese law.”