Hezbollah accuses the US of interfering in Lebanon’s investigation into last year’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, with the aim of implicating the terror group and its allies.
Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadallah’s response to criticism from a State Department spokesperson comes amid a developing crisis engulfing the domestic probe. The investigation was temporarily suspended Tuesday amid legal challenges from defendants against lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.
The US official’s comments are a “new violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty” that expose “the extent of interference aimed at controlling and steering the investigation,” Fadallah says.
Hezbollah’s comments are the first to directly accuse Washington of interfering and dictating how the port probe should go. They signal an escalation of a campaign against the 46-year-old judge that rights groups say is aimed at discrediting the investigation.
Bitar is the second judge to lead the probe into what caused thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the Port of Beirut for years to explode. He has come under heavy criticism from politicians in Lebanon for what they say is a politicized and biased line of investigation. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, asked that Bitar be replaced.
Families of the victims have rallied behind Bitar, decrying attempts to derail and politicize the investigation.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price late Tuesday criticized Nasrallah’s comments and said Washington supports Lebanon’s judicial independence.
“Judges must be free from threats and intimidation, including (Hezbollah’s),” Price said. “We’ve long been clear that Hezbollah’s terrorism and illicit activities threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty.”
Price accused Hezbollah of being “more concerned with its own interests and those of its patron, Iran, than in the best interests of the Lebanese people.”