Lebanon state prosecutor says he wants to avoid ‘blood on the streets’

Ghassan Oueidat has delayed the investigation into the Beirut port explosion in 2020

Lebanon’s state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat has said his controversial measures to delay an investigation into the explosion at Beirut port in August 2020 were taken to avoid “bloodshed on the streets”.

In an interview with Beirut’s Al-Joumhouria newspaper he also expressed the concern that he has “only postponed [violence] should the situation continue as it is”.

Mr Oueidat has filed charges against judge Tarek Bitar, who is investigating the explosion, for exceeding his authority by accusing three politicians of homicide for ignoring the danger posed by 2,750 tonnes of highly volatile ammonium nitrate which was stored in a port warehouse for six years. The explosion killed 218 people, wounded 6,000 and devastated entire neighbourhoods.

The three accused of homicide are former prime minister Hassan Diab, former public works and transport minister Ghazi Zeiter (who were in office at when the explosion occurred) and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil.


While Mr Diab was an academic recruited to head a technocratic cabinet, the other two are stalwarts of the Shia Amal movement. It is allied to Shia Hezbollah which is blamed by many Lebanese for undermining judge Bitar’s investigation and securing the removal of his predecessor, judge Fadi Sawwan.

As sitting legislators, Mr Zeiter and Mr Khalil claimed parliamentary immunity when charged by both judges. Judge Bitar also summoned Mr Oueidat, top security generals, and judges for obstructing his investigation, which had been suspended for 13 months until he unexpectedly resumed it on Monday. Judge Bitar – who has become a hero for the families of blast victims – has said he will continue with the investigation “even it’s going to cost me my life”.

Mr Oueidat has paralysed judge Bitar’s efforts by ordering the legal establishment not to co-operate with him. He has released 17 mid-level port officials and employees detained shortly after the explosion and proposed that an “investigative judge” be appointed to investigate judge Bitar. Mr Oueidat said, as state prosecutor, he is “in charge of the entire file” and his powers are “ultimate”.

The Naharnet news website reported that scuffles broke out Thursday during an altercation about the investigation between caretaker justice minister Henri Khoury and a dozen reformist and oppositionpoliticians.

Deputy Adib Abdel Massih complained that the minister’s guards tried to snatch politicians’ phones while they were discussing the investigation. “We raised our voices, calling on the minister to take an administrative decision regarding the deep rift in the judiciary. The minister raised his voice back and his guards attacked us and beat us,” Mr Abdel Massih said.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times