BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s Hezbollah group on Friday said recently filed charges were politically targeting the caretaker prime minister and three allied former ministers over this summer’s massive explosion in Beirut.
The group called on the investigating judge to reconsider his decision, saying it lacked a legal and constitutional basis and that the four were being selectively charged.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is backed by Hezbollah, resigned in the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion and remains in his post in a caretaker capacity, as Lebanese officials have failed to agree on a new Cabinet.
The four were the most senior officials to be charged in the investigation and are set to be questioned next week by investigating judge Fadi Sawwan. He was named by the government to the post a few days after the explosion, and has been conducting his probe mostly in secrecy.
The explosion in the port was caused by the ignition of a large stockpile of explosive material that had been stored at the port for six years, with the knowledge of top security officials and politicians who did nothing about it. It killed more than 200 people and wounded thousands, devastating large parts of the capital Beirut.
The decision to charge senior officials — including one in office — was significant in Lebanon, where a culture of impunity has prevailed for decades, including among the entrenched political elites.
“We are keen that all decisions taken by the investigating judge stay clear of politics and intent; be constitutional and not subject to interpretation or judgement; and that the indictment be based on legal and reasonable basis, which is what we did not find in the latest measures,” Hezbollah said
“Therefore we absolutely reject the absence of unified criteria which led to what we consider political targeting affecting some people and ignoring others unfairly,” it added.
Hezbollah said it supports the people’s right to know the reasons that led to the massive explosion and those responsible for it. But the powerful group said it doesn’t want the probe to be stymied in double standards, and doesn’t the truth to be lost in the “jungle of politics, the games of the street (pressure) and media clamor.”
It was not clear what the impact of Hezbollah’s call would be on Sawwan. But the charges issued Thursday have already been protested by the concerned officials.
A statement from Diab’s office Thursday accused Sawwan of violating the constitution and bypassing parliament. It added that Diab has already provided all the information he had to the judge, who questioned him in September over his prior knowledge about the explosive chemicals stored at the port.