Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
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Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, August 10, 2020. (Reuters)
Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
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Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab speaks to reporters at the presidential palace in Beirut, November 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2021

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
  • Tarek Bitar, a Lebanese judge leading the probe into last year’s explosion at Beirut’s port, made the decision after weeks of delay by Hassan Diab
  • Security forces have been ordered to bring in Diab by force, 24 hours before the date of the next questioning session, which Bitar set for Sept. 20

BEIRUT: A subpoena for Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister was issued on Thursday after he failed to show up for questioning in a growing case surrounding last year’s Beirut blast.

Tarek Bitar, a Lebanese judge leading the probe into last year’s explosion at Beirut’s port, made the decision after weeks of delay by Hassan Diab.

Last month, Bitar confirmed charges filed by his predecessor against Diab and three former ministers.

Security forces have been ordered to bring in Diab by force, 24 hours before the date of the next questioning session, which Bitar set for Sept. 20.

A judicial source told Arab News: “This step will be followed by similar ones. Judge Bitar may issue similar subpoenas, based on Article 106 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, against other defendants, including former ministers and security officials.”

Bitar and judicial investigator Fadi Sawan — who handled the case before him —  charged former ministers and current MPs in addition to Diab, namely Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, Nohad Machnouk and former minister Youssef Fenianos.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4 last year, killing 215 people, injuring more than 6,500 and devastating nearby neighborhoods.

“The failure of the political class to facilitate Bitar’s judicial work in a crime that took place a year and three weeks ago without accountability is the reason for him to take this path in order to reach the truth,” the judicial source added.

On Wednesday, Bitar simulated the circumstances that preceded the explosion, which occurred after a gap was welded in the structure of a warehouse in which the ammonium nitrate was stored.

The simulation was attended by several lawyers representing the concerned parties, a joint committee of army officers and the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces, while members of the Civil Defense supervised field preparations.

The Lebanese Meteorological Department was also present to link the simulation with climatic conditions on the day of the explosion.

The simulation took four to five hours and was documented without a media presence.

A detailed reenactment of the welding was carried out to verify whether it had a direct effect in causing the fire that preceded the explosion.

A model similar to the original warehouse was constructed for the purposes of the simulation, just meters away from the hole created by the explosion.

Bitar assigned technical experts to draw up a report showing whether the welding caused the explosion after investigators previously ruled out the potential of an aerial bombardment.

He is expected to issue an indictment at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Bitar is struggling with a lack of harmony with the Public Prosecution in the Beirut blast probe.

In December 2020, Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat stopped pursuing the investigation as a judicial prosecutor in the case because he is related to MP Ghazi Zeaiter, who was later charged.

The families of fire brigade members who died in the blast have also met Bitar. William Noun, whose brother Joe was one of the victims, said: “The families of all the victims will take action next week and organize a sit-in in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut to support the investigation’s progress. History will prove that politicians are failures.”

Meanwhile, three people have been charged for the Aug. 15 explosion of a fuel tank that killed 31 people in the town of Al-Tleil in the Akkar region.

Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki accused detainees George Rashid Ibrahim and Ali Sobhi Faraj of “unsafely storing flammable materials, despite their knowledge of the danger they pose to the lives of citizens, and causing the death of 31 soldiers and civilians.” He charged another detainee Jerji Elias Ibrahim with “setting the fire with a lighter.”


Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
Updated 6 sec ago

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
  • Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries

CAIRO: The Egyptian and Russian navies have launched the joint exercise Friendship Bridge 4, which will last for several days in the Mediterranean.

It began with a ceremony welcoming Russian forces at the Alexandria Naval Base in the presence of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Khaled Hassan Saeed, who delivered a speech in which he stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries’ navies.

Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries.

 Meanwhile, the armed forces of Egypt and Jordan concluded their joint exercise Aqaba-6. The training, which took place in Jordan, included a joint operation to eliminate an armed terrorist outpost inside a border village, and the interception of a merchant ship.


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 07 December 2021

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials

BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.


Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.