The investigations into the Beirut port explosion case have turned into a time bomb, heralding a new May 7, after 6 people were killed and others were injured in the Teyouneh neighborhood of Beirut by gunfire that began as people were assembling for a protest called by the Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal Movement against judge Tarek Bitar. The protest was meant to demand that Tarek Bitar, the judicial investigator, to be stopped as judicial investigator into the Beirut port explosion.
“While protesters headed to Adlieh Area, they were exposed to bursts of fire in the Teyouneh area – Badaro. The army rushed to cordon off the area and has afterwards deployed in its neighborhoods and at its entrances. The army has started to conduct patrols searching for the shooters in order to arrest them,” The Lebanese Army Command says in a statement. “The deployed army units will open fire towards any armed person that is on the roads and any other shooter placed anywhere else, and they ask civilians to evacuate the streets empty,” added in the statement.
It is noted that Hezbollah militia and Amal movement’s supporters called for a protest against Judge Tarek Bitar, the investigating judge in Beirut port explosion. The protesters began to assemble in Teyouneh area in preparation for heading towards the Palace of Justice in Beirut, where the protest is being held.
Shiite duo alliance…
Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, had led calls for Bitar to be removed from the probe into the blast, and Hezbollah’s ministers in the government joined Amal Movement’s ministers to demand removing the judge. The Shiite duo (Hezbollah and Amal Movement) have threatened to topple Najib Mikati’s government if the request were not met, and to resort to street movements to force the relevant authorities to remove of the judge.
Salah Salem, the editor-in-chief of Al-Liwaa newspaper, warned today, Wednesday, against going onto the street because it is a double-edged sword. He points out that no one can predict how they might end and what could happen in the street, and that there is a possibility of inserting elements among the protestors at every moment, especially since it is not always possible to control the street movement.
“The street has become two, as if we returned to the stage of vertical divisions between the 8th and 14th March teams in recent years, with a difference this time that is, there are allies of the Mar Mikhael Understanding in the street which are Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement,” Salem says. Salah Salem stresses that the Lebanese government is paralyzed and awaits finding a creative settlement for Judge Tarek Bitar, the investigating judge in the Beirut port explosion.
“Mikati’s government had spread an atmosphere of optimism in the early days, but this atmosphere quickly faded due to the disputes inside the government in particular, in addition, we now see the hesitation shown by the government in approving a quick plan for reforms and rescue that would be to open the doors of aid as quickly as necessary,” the editor-in-chief adds. He draws attention that what new in this file is that a conflict between two allies has broken out, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.
Salem has also confirmed that there is an effort to find a way out, but the Shiite duo does not accept anything less than the removal of Bitar, as this has become personalized after Hassan Nasrallah’s last speech. Therefore, it would be difficult to find a solution if the duo did not change their angles. “The Parliament currently getting on the line may be a little late, but it will not alleviate the current crisis because it is all about for Bitar to keep proceeding or to be removed.
Well-informed sources have revealed that Hezbollah wants from today’s protest with Amal movement to confirm that it owns the street and can occupy it and dismember Lebanon whenever it wants to. The same sources see that the protest it is just a rehearsal to confirm that the whole country is under control, and that negotiations can only be held through their gate, not through the gate of an era the party made itself and later disrupted the country for its sake.
It is worthy of mention that the Shiite duo has rejected the Minister of Justice’s proposal to refer their objections to the judicial inspection, and to form an arbitration panel of judges proposed by the Supreme Judicial Council to investigate Judge Bitar’s transgressions if there were any, noting that the Shiite duo does not object to dismissing Bitar through the Supreme Judicial Council.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has waged a campaign against Bitar after serious hints the judge’s investigation could reveal the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement in the storage of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut for several years. The August 4, 2020 explosion destroyed the port and part of the Lebanese capital and led to the death of more than 200 people.
Political sources revealed yesterday, Wednesday, that Tarek Bitar is heading to accuse Hezbollah of the crime of blasting the port, and that the party cannot bear the consequences of a crime it did not commit. These sources have emphasized that what is required is to dismiss Bitar from investigating, otherwise; Hezbollah, Amal Movement and Elmarada will suspend their participation in today’s session, and later there might be other steps that could amount to suspending their participation in the government.
However, Mikati had said earlier that Lebanon cannot afford to dismiss a second judge after firing the first investigator in February when the court ruled in favor of a complaint questioning his impartiality.
Some observers opine that Nasrallah cut off the road early for any continuation of the investigation and preferred to put an end to it in order to cover the way it brought ammonium nitrate materials to Beirut and stored them in one of the harbor’s wards. According to them, Hezbollah has put Mikati in a dilemma, as the government held a session on Tuesday, a session that was soon adjourned after an argument and a debate between Michel Aoun, the President of the Republic, and Bassam Mortada, Minister of Amal Movement. This has made the government look incapable of any back-and-forth with Hezbollah.
Bitar sought to question one of the country’s top politicians, Ali Hasan Khalil, the former minister of finance, who threatened a political escalation. Khalil is the right-hand man of Nabih Berri, Parliament Speaker, and a close ally of Hezbollah. He, as a result, has threatened to push Lebanon toward a civil war. Although Bitar sought to interrogate many politicians allied with Hezbollah, he has not specifically been after any member of the party itself.
On Wednesday, Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party, called on President Michel Aoun, the prime minister and the entire government to bear their responsibility in refusing to bow to Hezbollah’s intimidation. Geagea stresses that if the investigations of port explosion stopped, subject to this intimidation, it would be better for all of them to resign, starting with the president of the republic.
“What happened in the Council of Ministers discredited the independence of the government and confirmed beyond any doubt that Hezbollah has put its hold on institutions and showed its disregard for the concept of the state,” The Kataeb Party, headed by Sami Gemayel, said in a statement.
“The time has come to delegitimize the political legitimacy of this guardianship by changing the parliament in the upcoming elections and choosing competent patriots who are able to save Lebanon,” The head of the Kataeb Party tells.
A new May 7…
On the other hand, the Shiite duo insists on waving the internal fighting and threatening a new May 7, as Hezbollah and Amal Movement confirmed in united statement, today, Thursday, that the events taking place in the Teyouneh area in the capital, Beirut, aim to drag Lebanon to an intentional strife. The duo stresses that this attack has been carried out by armed and organized groups aim to drag the country into an intentional strife, the responsibility of which is beared by the instigators and parties that hide behind the victims and martyrs of the port in order to achieve malicious political gains.
“Hezbollah taught us that whenever the political solution is cut off in front of it, it resorts to escalation in security forces, begging for weapons or for the street threatened with weapons, miraculous appearances in the early morning hours, with a black fashion shown as threatening messages,” Sahar al-Khatib, a journalist, believes. “There are those who say today like May 7, but the real crisis for the party is that it cannot reproduce May 7 clearly and specifically since the political opposition that can fight is not a complete opposition framed to allow playing in its court,” she adds.
The journalist Marwan Al-Amin stated on Facebook that on May 7, Hezbollah had a clear opponent represented by the March 14 forces, which had a parliamentary majority and headed the government. These forces had leaders that Hezbollah wanted to break (including Hariri and Jumblatt) and geographic areas (Beirut and Mount Lebanon) that can be invaded, occupied and turned into a battlefield. Al-Amin confirms that today, there is no mass political party confronting Hezbollah, rather, its opponents are the people and they do not have any parliamentary majority or ministerial authority, furthermore, there are no leaders that can be subjugated, only people-individuals without a leader, no geographical area and anti-Hezbollah sect that can be subdued and broken.
There is great fear in Lebanon of the public’s outrage, especially after the crisis in the port investigation file, as the whole attention will be focused on what will happen inside the Palace of Justice and its surroundings, amid warnings of intimidating judge Bitar.
It is noteworthy that the events of May 7, 2008, which took place in Beirut and some areas of Mount Lebanon, left 71 dead, from both pro-government and opposition militias. This conflict is considered the most dangerous and violent on the ground since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990. it came after two decisions issued by the Lebanese Council of Ministers. The first one was to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network, and the second was removing Wafik Choucair, Beirut Airport’s head, the matter that the opposition considered a violation of the ministerial statement that supports the resistance.