Lebanon's Top Politicians Agree to Charge Ministers Over Port Blast in Special Court

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Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks, July 2020.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks, July 2020.Credit: Dalati Nohra/Reuters

Lebanon's top Christian cleric on Tuesday said the country's three leading politicians agreed to a "solution" to political tensions and government paralysis tied to high-profile judicial investigations.

"There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said during a news conference after a day spent shuttling between the prime minister, the parliament speaker and president.

An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges while allowing blast investigator Tarek Bitar to continue with the cases of lower-level officials.

The special court, formed by a parliamentary vote, has never held any official to account.

Bitar has sought to question top officials including former ministers affiliated with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement and the Marada Movement, both allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has responded with a smear campaign accusing Bitar of politicizing the probe.

Rai had earlier said after a meeting with Berri that issues had to be resolved "because Lebanon is dying, the people are dying and the state is disintegrating."

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not convened a Cabinet meeting since October 12, pending a solution to the standoff that has paralyzed government for over two weeks.

The dispute spilled over into the Cabinet when ministers allied to those parties called for Bitar's removal in a heated discussion during the last session.

Rai also said he was "slightly upset" about the summoning of Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea by army intelligence for a hearing over fatal clashes in Beirut's Ain al-Remmaneh neighborhood this month.

On October 14, seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and Amal, were shot dead during a Beirut protest the parties organized against Bitar, the worst street violence in more than a decade.

A supporter of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups burns posters that show the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, and Arabic reading: "Judge Bitar is the red line," this month.Credit: Hussein Malla/AP Photo

The parties said the seven were killed by supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party headed by Samir Geagea, who has backed the blast investigation. Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Geagea was summoned for a hearing on Wednesday by army intelligence. No other top politician has received such a summons.

On Tuesday, Geagea's lawyers filed a motion claiming the summons was unlawful, while attorneys representing a number of detainees submitted a motion requesting that Judge Fadi Akiki recuse himself from the case.

A group of Ain al-Remmaneh residents this week filed a lawsuit against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, claiming fighters under his command involved in the clashes had undermined "national unity" and committed terrorist acts.

President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said Bitar's probe should continue, on Tuesday urged the government to resume Cabinet meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, today.Credit: DALATI NOHRA/Reuters

Rima Zahed, the sister of port blast victim Amin Zahed and a member of a committee representing the families of victims, warned against "any kind of settlement or deal" that infringed upon the reach of the investigation.

"No-one can threaten us with sectarian tensions or the difficult situation the Lebanese people are in. Politicians need to know this," she said. "There will be no deals made over the blood of our martyrs."

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