Hezbollah chief warns against ‘politicising’ Lebanon port blast probe

Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech from an undisclosed location on Aug 7, 2021.
Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech from an undisclosed location on Aug 7, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (AFP) – The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Saturday (Aug 7) warned against “politicising” a probe into a deadly port blast last year, rejecting accusations that the group was involved in bringing explosive fertiliser to the dockside.

Hassan Nasrallah spoke after Lebanon on Wednesday marked one year since hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded at a Beirut port warehouse, killing at least 214 people and wrecking swathes of the city.

The Shi'ite group’s detractors have in recent weeks claimed it was involved in bringing the substance to the port so it could travel on to neighbouring Syria for its ally the Damascus government to use in barrel bombs during the Syrian civil war.

But Nasrallah in a televised speech dismissed these accusations as “fabricated” and “ridiculous”.

“As if Hezbollah which has weapons and rockets... needs to bring in nitrate,” added the head of the Iran-backed group.

“As if, with its warehouses to fit tens of thousands of rockets, it did not have warehouses in which to put the nitrate.”

He dismissed the accusations as “political targeting paid for by America and Saudi Arabia in service of Israel”.

It emerged after the explosion that officials had known the ammonium nitrate had been lingering at the port for years.

A local probe was launched into the disaster but has stalled, with families of the victims and survivors growing increasingly angry and accusing politicians of trying to hamper it at every turn.

Nasrallah in his speech also took a swipe at the lead judge probing the explosion, calling on him to provide proof to back up his decision to summon current and former officials for questioning in the case.

“Where is the evidence?” he said, calling on Judge Tareq Bitar to share the results.

The judge is demanding that parliament lift the immunity of three former ministers so he can proceed with investigations, but lawmakers have requested more evidence before deciding on whether to waive immunity.

Bitar has rejected parliament’s request.

The caretaker interior minister also did not allow Bitar to question top intelligence official Abbas Ibrahim over the blast.

“The investigation is politicised,” Nasrallah said. “Either he must work... in a clear manner or the judiciary must find another judge.”

In February, Bitar’s predecessor was removed by a court, which had questioned his impartiality because his home had been damaged in the explosion.