Melhem Khalaf Concerned Over New Fires Compromising Evidence At Beirut Port

MTV | REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR

Following the massive fire that burned at the Beirut port last week, and a smaller fire days before it, residents of the capital city relived moments of terror instilled since the August 4 explosion.

Investigations into the explosion were still in progress, but even after a month, the probe hadn’t shown much promise. And with these new fires at the Beirut port, activists are suspecting that they were set on purpose to tamper with evidence at the port where the explosion took place.

“The fire Thursday in a warehouse in the port of Beirut where humanitarian aid was stored raised questions from activists and experts who suspect a will to alter potential evidence a month after the deadly explosion of August 4,” said LeFigaro.

The mentioned humanitarian aid belonged to the International Red Cross (ICRC). “Part of our stock of food parcels stored at our supplier’s warehouse caught fire but is not possible to confirm the level of loss incurred at this time,” the ICRC issued in a tweet on September 10th.

From his side, the head of the Beirut Bar Association Melhem Khalaf urged investigative Judge Fadi Sawan, who is leading the blast probe, to consider that the fires could have compromised evidence vital to the investigation. 

In fact, right after the August 4 explosion, as if suspecting that evidence would be compromised, Khalaf had asked that the crime scene be preserved. “Preserving the crime scene was the first thing we demanded,” Khalaf told AFP on Monday.

However, according to AFP, Judge Sawan believes that it is unlikely evidence was affected because last week’s fire took place outside the explosion investigation zone. 

“Even if the site of the fire is outside the crime scene, one cannot deny that they are very close”, said Omar Nachabe, a researcher in criminology, who evoked “a suspect coincidence,” reported to Le Figaro.

So far, investigators are dismissing the possibility of a connection. Instead, they are reportedly considering that the fire could have been set as “part of an insurance fraud scheme.”

Until now, it is unclear what exactly caused the massive fire but caretaker transportation and public works minister, Michel Najjar, said the fire could have started by welding work taking place at the port. 

The maintenance work of welding, as it seems, has become a life-threatening danger in Lebanon or an excuse to a series of “coincidences.”

On Tuesday, another fire erupted in a Beirut shopping center designed by renowned British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Welding, as well, is said to be the cause.

However, people and experts are having a hard time believing the welding story that, coincidentally, is common to these new fires. Melhem Khalaf deemed them “worrying indicators.”

“What happened is unacceptable, and it is not at all reassuring,” he stressed. “The investigating judge must get his hands on this file and continue the investigation.”

“Justice today is facing a test,” he warned, calling for “independence, transparency and speed” of procedures.

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It is to note that Melhem Khalaf and his team of lawyers have been building a legal case against the government to be presented at the International Court, following the August 4 explosion and the mishandling of the catastrophe.