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Off again, on again

The investigation into the Beirut Blast was reopened by Judge Bitar, only to be met with obstruction and pushback by Ghassan Oueidat, suspect and top prosecutor.

Relatives of victims of the 2020 Beirut port explosion, push against the entrance gate of the palace of justice in the Lebanese capital, during a rally to support the judge investigating the disaster, on January 26, 2023, after he was charged by the country's top prosecutor in the highly political case. One of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions, the August 4, 2020 blast destroyed much of the Lebanese capital's port and surrounding areas, killing more than 215 people and injuring over 6,500. No official has been held accountable for the disaster. Photo: Joseph Eid, AFP

The 13-month hiatus of the probe into the Beirut Blast came to an end on Monday by way of  Judge Bitar’s new investigation, in which he charged eight new suspects, including Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat.

As a retaliation, Oueidat imposed a travel ban on Bitar, accusing him of usurping power and insubordination. A demonstration was held in support of Bitar by the families of the victims.

Why this matters Bitar’s surprise move sparked a judicial battle with Prosector General Oueidat, showcasing the fragility and deeply rooted corruption of Lebanon’s judicial system. 

The August 4, 2020 blast left more than 200 people dead after hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated in the largest non-nuclear explosion recorded in history.

The investigation has been stalled multiple times by political interference. However, this did not stop the families from continuously protesting all this time.

On Thursday, Family members of the victims of the port blast have tried to break into the Justice Palace in the Lebanese capital as they protested against the lack of progress in the investigation over the explosion.

Furthermore, this indicates that Lebanon’s ruling establishment is becoming increasingly hostile to Judge Tarek Bitar’s efforts to reopen the probe.

As Bitar continues seeking Hezbollah’s allies for questioning, the party has continuously targeted the judge.

Its head Hassan Nasrallah called for Bitar’s removal in 2021.

A Hezbollah parliamentarian even said that Oweidat’s decisions were “a step in the right direction.”

For now, the Supreme Judicial Council has canceled its afternoon meeting due to protests and “interference” by lawmakers, but no date or time for a new session has been set, Reuters reported on Thursday.

In the event that Bitar is replaced by a third judge, the investigation may be halted for a further period of time. For the families of the victims, Bitar is a savior and a glimmer of hope.

In conclusion, the judicial battle may not end well for Judge Bitar or the investigation. Despite Bitar’s unprecedented moves giving hope to many, the ruling class is willing to go the distance to protect itself and not its people.  

Even in a political sense, the situation is either hopeless or violent. In response to the judicial clashes, MPs for Change met with caretaker minister Henry Khoury in the Justice Palace to demand action.

According to reports, the minister’s bodyguards assaulted the MPs and attempted to steal their phones from them.

In other words, the system has little interest in protestors, MPs, or judges, as it has been run by warlords for more than three decades and continues to choose to reign with a steel fist than with interest to the people. 

Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist with @NOW_leb. She is on Instagram @danahourany and Twitter @danahourany.