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Beirut blast probe judge allowed to resume investigation

Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator of the August 2020 port explosion, has faced obstruction from Lebanon's political elite and Hezbollah over the case
Beirut Port blast victims' families demonstrate
Relatives of victims have demanded that investigations into the 4 August 2020 port explosion be allowed to continue (AFP)

Tarek Bitar, the lead judicial investigator into the Beirut port blast, will be allowed to resume his work thanks to a ruling on Tuesday from a Lebanese court. The investigation had been halted for more than a month due to legal disputes from former officials charged in the case.

Bitar's attempts to question past and present Lebanese officials on suspicion of negligence over the August 2020 explosion have been consistently blocked by the country's political class. 

Earlier this year, former Lebanese officials, including one-time finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and public works minister Ghazi Zaiter, mounted legal complaints against being officially questioned in the probe.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has likewise called on Bitar to be replaced, accusing him of being biased and politicised. 

Those claims, by the leader of the Iran-backed group, have further inflamed Lebanon's fractious government, preventing Prime Minister Najib Mikati's cabinet from meeting since October.

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The Beirut port blast destroyed large swaths of the Mediterranean city and left more than 200 dead, exacerbating Lebanon's already dire economic crisis and laying bare for many the corruption inside the country's government. 

The judicial probe into the explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded, has so far made little progress, angering many Lebanese citizens, including families of the victims. To date, the investigation is yet to publicly identify a single culprit.

Bitar's predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed as the lead judge in February after a former official charged with negligence filed a complaint against him.

Activists and human rights groups have condemned the repeated suspensions of Bitar's work as an attempt by politicians to evade justice and derail the official inquiry.

"They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure," Nizar Saghieh, head of The Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organisation, told Reuters.

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