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Judge Tarek Bitar, lead investigator in the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast probe, issued the first decisions related to the case in 13 months, releasing five suspects and naming eight others. Bitar ordered the release of a customs official, port officials and maintenance workers who were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the blast while initiating proceedings against eight new suspects, among whom are General Security head Abbas Ibrahim, and head of State Security, Tony Saliba. The lead investigator seems to have found legal recourse allowing him to retake control of the probe after it was paralyzed for over a year, pending rulings on complaints filed by MPs Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos — all of whom are implicated in the probe. The issue of detainees jeopardized Bitar’s control of the case last year after the Higher Judicial Council approved the appointment of an alternate judge to rule on urgent matters in the case, namely the status of people in custody. No such judge has yet been named, however, as groups of blast victims’ relatives repeatedly protested the appointment and called for the restoration of Bitar’s authority.
Unknown assailants threw an explosive device at television channel LBCI’s headquarters in Adma, Kesrouan, Sunday evening after the channel aired a controversial sketch. “Two people who were on a motorcycle are suspected” to have carried out the attack that caused material damage and briefly disrupted LBCI’s Sunday evening news broadcast, leaving behind a grenade pin, the channel said. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati joined other officials in condemning the attack, assuring that “investigations will be carried out.” The attack follows LBCI’s release of a comedic sketch parodying common expressions and religious practices within Lebanon's Shiite community. "Freedom of press will remain protected," Mikati added, as the attack on LBCI follows a series of assaults against local television Al Jadeed’s headquarters after a comedy program insinuated relations between women in South Lebanon and United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon peacekeepers stationed in the area. There have been no injuries in the attacks.
Six people returning to Lebanon from Syria have been held captive for two weeks by kidnappers demanding a ransom, a Joint Palestinian Force commander told L’Orient Today. A Syrian gang abducted a woman along with her three children, her sister and her mother on their way back to Lebanon two weeks ago, Col. Abd al-Hadi al-Asadi said. The woman’s brother-in-law said her husband, a Palestinian from the Ain al-Hilweh camp in Saida, has been receiving regular threats that his family will be harmed if he doesn’t pay a $15,000 ransom. Last week, the Lebanese Army announced it had rescued two children who had been held for ransom for more than three months after being kidnapped on their way home from school in the Bekaa Valley.
Forces of Change MPs Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf are still inside the Parliament building, starting their sixth day of a sit-in against the presidential election impasse. “We are managing with what we have,” Saliba said. Parliament Secretary-General Adnan Daher said the administration has no intention to complicate the MPs’ stay and dissuade their protest. Saliba and Khalaf remained inside Parliament following the latest presidential electoral session last Thursday to protest “the obstructionist policy that is being implemented in the country,” particularly MP walkouts causing Parliament to lose quorum after a single voting round. The MPs said they will remain in the building until a president is elected. Lebanon has been without a president since the end of Michel Aoun’s term on Oct. 31, leading to issues in convening the caretaker cabinet and repeated calls from local and international actors for an end to the vacancy.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “From shame to fame … to shame: Saida’s resurrected garbage mountain suffocates the city”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz