The investigation into the massive explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 continues

The investigation into the massive explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 continues

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BEIRUT — The judge investigating the massive 2020 Beirut port blast resumed work Monday after a nearly 13-month hiatus, ordering the release of some detainees and announcing plans to indict others, including two senior generals , said law officials.

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work has been blocked pending a ruling by the Court of Cassation since December 2021 after three former cabinet ministers took legal action against him. The court is the highest in the country.

Although there was no court ruling, Bitar resumed work on the case on Monday based on his legal justification, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. You didn’t elaborate on that.

Bitar did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The August 4, 2020 disaster occurred when hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, detonated in the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people, injuring over 6,000 and damaging large parts of Beirut. The explosion is considered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

It later emerged that the ammonium nitrate had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013 and had been improperly stored in a port warehouse ever since. High-ranking politicians and security officials knew of his presence but did nothing.

Judiciary officials said Bitar decided to release five people who had been detained for more than two years. These include former customs chief Shafeek Merhi; Sami Hussein, the head of port operations at the time of the blast, and a Syrian worker. Twelve people remain in custody, including the Port Authority chief and the head of Lebanese Customs at the time of the blast.

Officials added that Bitar is expected to indict eight people, including top intelligence officials Maj-Gen Abbas Ibrahim and Maj-Gen Tony Saliba. Bitar previously indicted three ex-ministers who repeatedly refused to appear for questioning and filed legal complaints to halt the investigation.

Bitar has been harshly criticized by Hassan Nasrallah, the powerful leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Nasrallah called Bitar’s investigation a “big mistake” and said it was biased. He urged the authorities to remove Bitar.

Bitar is the second judge to take the case. The first judge, Fadi Sawwan, was dismissed for bias following complaints from two cabinet ministers. If the same thing happens to Bitar, it could be the final blow to the investigation.

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