Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadallah's response to criticism from a State Department spokesperson came after the domestic probe was temporarily suspended Tuesday amid legal challenges from defendants against lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.
The US official's comments are a “new violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty” that expose “the extent of interference aimed at controlling and steering the investigation,” Fadallah said, according to AP.
Hezbollah’s comments are the first to directly accuse Washington of interfering and dictating how the port probe should go.
Bitar is the second judge to lead the probe into what caused thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the Beirut port for years to explode. He has come under heavy criticism from politicians in Lebanon for what they say is a politicized and biased line of investigation. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah asked that Bitar be replaced.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price late Tuesday said Washington supports Lebanon’s judicial independence.
Price accused Hezbollah of being “more concerned with its own interests… than in the best interests of the Lebanese people.”
Fadallah accused Washington of imposing “dictates that aim to obstruct justice and cover up the truth” against segments of the population that the US considers as enemies.
Bitar has issued two arrest warrants against former government officials, a rare move against Lebanon’s entrenched political elites, where impunity has prevailed for decades. The former officials remain at large.
Hezbollah and other political groups have accused Bitar of going after some senior former government officials and not others. None of Hezbollah’s officials have so far been charged in the 14-month-old investigation.
A government minister threatened that street protests or walkouts by cabinet members could take place if there was no action to replace Bitar. A cabinet meeting that was expected Wednesday was postponed following a request from new Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Lebanon was without a fully functioning government for more than a year amid political haggling over its composition. The new government just took office last month as Lebanon grapples with an unparalleled economic and energy crisis.