October 19, 2021

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Grenade launchers are being fired by assailants as Beirut gun battle continues

The aftermath of a massive explosion at the port in Beirut, Lebanon, is seen in this image taken August 5, 2020.
The aftermath of a massive explosion at the port in Beirut, Lebanon, is seen in this image taken August 5, 2020. (Daniel Carde/Getty Images)

Thursday’s violence came ahead of a protest calling for the removal of a judge whose investigation into last year’s port blast has sent shockwaves through Lebanon’s political elite.

Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant and political group, has been a staunch opponent of Tarek Bitar, the popular judge who is leading the probe into the explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people last August.

Since his appointment to the investigation in February, Bitar has sought top political and security officials for questioning.

This week Bitar issued an arrest warrant for former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a top official from the Hezbollah-allied Amal party. Bitar has also issued arrest warrants for lawmaker Nouhad Machnouk, an ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and an ex-interior minister.

Bitar, who also heads Beirut’s criminal court, is the second judicial investigator to lead the port investigation. The first judge tasked with handling the probe was dismissed after two former government ministers charged in the investigation successfully filed a motion for his removal.

Several legal petitions by officials being prosecuted to dismiss Bitar have been unsuccessful.

During a televised speech on Monday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah chastised the judge, accusing him of being “politicized.”