Beirut blast probe resumes after more than a year of delays

Families of victims have protested over hold-ups to investigation

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An investigation into the deadly Beirut blast which killed more than 200 people has resumed in Lebanon after more than a year of delays.

The investigation reopened on Monday

The blast occurred at Beirut Port after a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate caught fire, killing 220 people, injuring thousands and destroying many parts of the capital on August 4 2020. It's seen as a symptom of decades worth of mismanagement and corruption that has plagued Lebanon, which is currently entrenched in one of the worst economic collapses in modern times.

Families of the victims of the blast clashed with police outside of the Palais de Justice this month, as they protested the judicial blockage that has meant no senior official has been held accountable.

Judge Tarek Bitar ordered the release of five detained suspects, including the head of customs, while charging eight others. According to reports, they include two high-ranking security officials - the head of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, and the head of State Security, Tony Saliba.

The five released are not allowed to leave the country, while another 12 who were detained in connection with the investigation remain in custody.

The investigation had been blocked since late 2021 amid legal challenges from politicians Mr Bitar wanted to question over the explosion. They argued he did not have the judicial authority to do so.

He has also sought to question senior politicians, including Hassan Diab — prime minister at the time of the blast — plus MPs from the Shiite Amal Movement, which is headed by the influential parliamentary speaker Nabi Berrih.

Amal's Shiite ally, the Iran-backed armed group and political party Hezbollah, has often called for Mr Bitar to step down and accused him of being political motivated.

On Monday, Mr Bitar said the investigation was being reopened following legal studies conducted over the past month to break the deadlock.

In September, authorities sought to add a second judge to the investigation, arguing that it was a past the impasse. But critics, including family members of the victims, decried it as yet another bid by top officials to evade justice.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 4:53 PM