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Hezbollah, media affiliates demand complete closure of Beirut blast inquiry

People holding banners stage a protest outside Beirut Palace of Justice to support the lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar of last year's Beirut Port blast as they chant slogans against Hezbollah in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 October 2021. [Mahmut Geldi - Anadolu Agency]
People holding banners stage a protest outside Beirut Palace of Justice to support the lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar of last year's Beirut Port blast as they chant slogans against Hezbollah in Beirut, Lebanon on 13 October 2021. [Mahmut Geldi - Anadolu Agency]

Media outlets affiliated with the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah has said that the group demands the complete closure of the independent investigation into the Beirut blast, an issue which has sparked considerable sectarian tensions and violence this week.

In an article published on the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese news site Al-Akhbar on Friday, it's CEO and chief editor Ibrahim al-Amin went a step further in opposing the inquiry's head judge Tarek Bitar by calling for an end to the investigation altogether.

Popularly known for his fiery and controversial op-ed articles, al-Amin referred to the violent clashes in central Beirut during a protest by supporters of Hezbollah and the other Shia party Amal.

With the protest having turned violent in the predominantly Christian Tayouneh neighbourhood, snipers opened fire from rooftops which resulted in retaliatory fire by Hezbollah fighters. Seven people were killed altogether in the incident, with over thirty wounded.

Al-Amin wrote that "after everything that happened…until yesterday's crime, the leadership of the resistance [Hezbollah]…is waiting for the following: First: the closure of the file of insanity led by Tariq Bitar."

READ: Tension over Beirut blast probe tips Lebanon into new crisis

He added other demands of the movement, calling for the second which is "the trial of those who decided, planned and distributed tasks and carried out the killings in Tayouneh." The third, he concluded, is to "hold accountable all those who neglected and failed to protect unarmed demonstrators."

Bitar, the judge leading the inquiry into the blast, is the second judge to fill that role after the previous one was forced out and removed in February due to huge opposition by both Shia and Sunni political groups and ministers. Bitar has especially earned the anger of Hezbollah, however, who have accused him of being biased and singling out politicians for investigation who are allied and affiliated with the group.

Amid the many crises that have hit the country over the past year – including the plummeting of Lebanon's currency, the shortage of essential goods, and the lack of sufficient fuel and electricity which has led to total blackouts – many see the Iranian-backed Hezbollah as being a key contributor and cause of the hardships ravaging the country.

The group's opposition to the independent inquiry has furthermore raised suspicion of its involvement in the blast last August and the rampant corruption that led to it. Demands by Hezbollah and its affiliates such as Al-Akhbar to completely dispose of the inquiry, therefore, will likely further raise those suspicions.

READ: How long will Lebanon and Iraq tolerate militias which undermine national sovereignty?

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