Judge Bitar resumes Beirut blast probe; unwilling to budge

The blast on Aug. 4, 2020, killed 220 and injured over 6,500 people, and destroying the Beirut waterfront and its back neighborhoods. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Judge Bitar resumes Beirut blast probe; unwilling to budge

BEIRUT: The lawyers of the Beirut port explosion victims and the 17 arrested defendants fear the lawyers of the politicians accused of being involved in the crime would resort to the Court of Cassation after they exhausted their cases before the Court of Appeal.

Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the probe, had resumed his meetings on Wednesday in his office at the Justice Palace after the judiciary defied the pressures to remove him from the case.

Every setback in the investigations delays the indictment and the trials even further.

The horrific blast occurred on Aug. 4, 2020, after 1,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the Beirut port along with seized explosives exploded, killing 220 victims, injuring over 6,500 people, and destroying the Beirut waterfront and its back neighborhoods.

Bitar and his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, accused former PM Hassan Diab and four former ministers, Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, Nohad Machnouk and Youssef Finianos of being involved in the crime and charged them with “a felony of probable intent to murder and a misdemeanor of negligence because they were aware of the presence of the ammonium nitrate, and did not take measures to spare the country such a disaster.”

Director-General of State Security Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, his counterpart at the General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and several judges have also been accused of being involved.

Bitar has not yet received the results of the simulation he conducted of the explosion in August. A security source told Arab News that security experts are still reviewing the simulation before drawing up their report and presenting it to the judge.

Bitar is yet to receive the satellite images [from the day of the explosion] that the Russian administration handed over to the Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib over a week ago. “The satellite images have been given to experts from the security forces for reviewing,” the source noted.

He downplayed the possibility of these images revealing significant details. “These satellites are always rotating, so they might not have taken any images right before or during the explosion. If these satellites were above the Beirut port following the blast, then these images are worthless to the investigation because what matters is what led to the explosion.”

The security source noted that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) asked many countries for satellite images when it was investigating the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, but none of the satellites had taken images right before or during the crime.

On Thursday, former minister and lawyer Rachid Derbas, representing Diab, submitted formal pleas before Bitar, regarding the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council and the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

A judicial source told Arab News that all the arrests and charges made by Bitar “were based on acts that led to the explosion, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. The investigation does not focus only on the explosion. It is rather manifold; how the ship loaded with ammonium nitrate arrived in Lebanon and all the events that led to the day of the explosion. This investigation is carried out by a single judge, while such crimes usually have an integrated team to expedite things.”

He questioned why Hezbollah is suspicious of the investigation's path and is accusing Bitar of politicizing the case.

The judicial source recalled a speech Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave in the wake of the blast, in which he said he will not provide a cover for anyone involved, no matter their sect, especially if they were Shiites, then, later on, started accusing Bitar of politicizing the investigation and targeting specific sects. “Bitar’s investigation is still ongoing and he is summoning everyone he believes the facts point to as being involved. He still has a lot of suspects he needs to question.”

Whenever Bitar takes a step forward, he stumbles over new obstacles. The source wondered: “How come the STL’s verdict did not provoke any offensive stances such as the ones Bitar is facing today?”

The judicial source believed Bitar would not step down, “otherwise, he would be admitting to all the accusations made against him.

“Bitar’s conscience is clear and he is simply doing his duty,” he said, adding: “The judiciary has to shelter Bitar, just as the military court did and imprisoned the journalist who dared to utter offensive words against the military institution.”

The ruling class is trying to evade Bitar by insisting that politicians should be tried before the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

Legal expert and former MP Salah Hanin had previously told Arab News: “The PM and ministers do not have immunity when they commit a criminal offense such as the port explosion crime. It subjects them to ordinary laws and to the same judiciary that exercises its authority over all citizens.”

Hanin cited Article 70 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the parliament has the right to impeach the PM and ministers for high treason or breach of their duties. “This article does not include criminal offenses; they thus must appear before the judiciary.”


Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

Updated 07 December 2022

Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

  • The supporters were revelling in the centre of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco's victory over Spain
  • Fans were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, police said

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had detained 13 far-right activists in Verona for an assault on Moroccan soccer fans who were celebrating their historic qualification for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The supporters were revelling in the center of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco’s victory over Spain when they were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, the police said in a statement.
Those held “were identified by investigators as militants of far-right groups in the city,” it said.
Morocco’s World Cup progress has seen vibrant celebrations by its supporters in cities with large Moroccan immigrant populations around the world, which have sometimes turned violent.
Their victory over Belgium in the group stage sparked riots in Brussels, and on Tuesday evening video footage showed fans lighting flares and throwing furniture and other objects in the center of Milan.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, tweeted the images of the Milan episodes, saying he hoped those responsible would be identified and made to pay for the damage to property.
He did not comment on the incidents in Verona.


US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

Updated 07 December 2022

US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

  • The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted
  • The State Department did not list who would be affected

WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it would bar visas to any current or former Sudanese officials who hold up a transition to democracy, hoping to boost a tentative deal between the military and civilians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced US support for the initial agreement announced Monday, which some pro-democracy protesters see as falling short on specifics and timelines.
“Recognizing the fragility of democratic transitions, the United States will hold to account spoilers — whether military or political actors — who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress,” Blinken said in a statement.
The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted. The State Department did not list who would be affected.
“We once again call on Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to civilians, respect human rights and end violence against protesters,” Blinken said.
“At the same time, we urge representatives of Sudan’s civilian leaders to negotiate in good faith and place the national interest first.”
Longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following massive youth-led protests but the army chief, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in October last year derailed the transition by carrying out a military coup.
The United States following the coup suspended $700 million in aid that was meant to help Sudan cope economically as it moves toward democracy.
The latest US step is an expansion of visa restrictions imposed during the first stage of Sudan’s democratic transition.

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Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

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