BEIRUT (AP) – Hezbollah has accused the United States of interfering in the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut in order to implicate the guerrilla group and its allies.
The accusation, voiced by the group’s legislator Hassan Fadallah, came in response to criticism from the United States for the way the investigation is being handled.
Fadallah described the statements of the State Department spokesman as “a new violation of Lebanese sovereignty” that reflects “the interference that seeks to control and divert the investigation.”
The statements come in the midst of a crisis surrounding the investigation. The investigation was suspended on Tuesday after several of the defendants denounced the judge in charge of the process, Tarek Bitar.
It is the first time that Hezbollah has directly accused Washington of trying to manipulate the probe. Human rights groups have denounced a campaign against the 46-year-old judge in order to discredit the investigation.
Bitar is the second judge to investigate the causes of the explosion of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut in August 2020. He has been harshly criticized by Lebanese politicians, who accuse him of handling a politicized and biased investigation. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for the judge’s removal.
But the families of the victims support Bitar and have denounced attempts to divert or politicize the investigation.
On Tuesday night, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned Nasrallah’s remarks and assured that Washington supports Lebanon’s judicial independence.
“All judges must be safe from threats and intimidation, including from (Hezbollah),” Price said.
“We have always been emphatic that Hezbollah terrorism and illegal activities threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty,” he added.