Beirut, Lebanon – Dozens of Lebanese lawmakers have promised to support a parliamentary motion allowing a special judiciary to investigate and try interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab and four former ministers over last year’s Beirut port blast, but activists lawyers and the families of the victims of the explosion have hit the move as an attempt to protect officials from liability.
U Explosion of the port of Beirut on August 4, it killed more than 200 people, injured about 6,500, and displaced part of the Lebanese capital. Many blamed officials for storing hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate in the port, which ignited and caused the explosion.
A judicial source told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that at least 50 deputies had initially signed the motion to try the officials of the Supreme Council, a judicial body in charge of impeachment issues.
In addition to Diab, the source said the four former ministers included in the motion are former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former public works ministers Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Finianos, and former finance minister the Interior Nouhad Machnouk. Khalil, Zeiter and Machnouk are currently parliamentarians.
The source said the council, made up of eight senior judges in more than seven legislatures nominated by their peers, has “never tried a minister, president or legislator in its history.” and critics see the move as an attempt to undermine an already blocked judicial inquiry.
Earlier in July Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the judicial investigation into the explosion, asked the boosting immunity of many senior politicians and former and current security officials to be able to prosecute them on suspicion of criminal negligence, as well as for murder with probable intent for the explosion.
However, if the former ministers are summoned to the Supreme Council, then Bitar would then be unable to accuse him.
Lawmakers supporting the motion say it is in line with Lebanon’s constitution.
The judicial source said that the support of 61 deputies is necessary for the motion to go through a simple majority. President Nabih Berri has not yet announced when Parliament will be the next convocation.
The source predicts that Parliament will likely vote to transfer the matter to the Supreme Council but said lawmakers could prevent the next step, which would require two-thirds of Parliament to vote for the Supreme Council to convene it.
“It is clear that this is an attempt to cancel the investigation,” the source said.
The relatives of the victims of the explosion were outraged by the news.
“We have refused and condemned this crime cover of the century,” Mahdi Zahreldine, 21, whose brother Imad was killed on the farm, told Al Jazeera.
“I think Judge Tarek Bitar is not silent on this.”
The Council’s Legal Agenda said it had identified 30 MPs who approved the motion, calling it “the list of shame”, and said the move would protect officials charged with the indictment.
“The Legal Agenda considers it a fraudulent move to smuggle suspects by forensic investigator Tarek Bitar,” he said.
The future parliamentarian of the Movement Mohammad Hajjar, who signed the motion, told Al Jazeera that they are simply following Lebanese law, adding that they have always favored an international inquiry.
“Lebanese law is clear, and no one is above the constitution,” he said.
Since the news, MPs Salim Saadeh, Samy Fatfat, Dima Jamali, Adnan Traboulsi and Nicholas Nahhas have withdrawn their names from the motion.
Other lawmakers who signed their names on the motion did not respond to calls from Al Jazeera.
International probe call
The parliamentary motion is the latest hurdle Judge Bitar has faced since announcing legal proceedings against the current and former top political and security officials earlier this month.
Interior Minister Mohamad Fahmi has rejected Bitar’s request to interrogate the head of security, General Abbas Ibrahim.
Prior to Bitar’s appointment, the Lebanese Court of Cassation remanded Judge Fadi Sawan in February to lead the investigation into the devastating operation, after Khalil and Zeiter filed legal complaints against him.
They argued that Sawan could not be fair that his house was damaged in the crash.
Rights groups say the latest parliamentary motion further justifies their calls for an international inquiry, arguing that the country’s political parties will continue to obstruct local investigations.
“While the current system in Lebanon remains, the hope that we will see justice through the domestic process is incredibly meager,” Lebanese Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub told Al Jazeera.
“We need an international inquiry free from the limitations of Lebanese national policy and built on the work that Judge Bitar has already done.”