BEIRUT – The FBI will join Jews and other international investigators in investigating a mass bombing in the port of Beirut that killed more than 170 people, injured thousands and caused widespread destruction, a U.S. diplomat said.
Lebanese authorities had invited the FBI to attend, and this is one way Washington can help the country deal with the effects of the disaster, U.S. Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said as he visited the Gemayezeh neighborhood, which was damaged by the Aug. 4 blast.
“The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of Lebanese in order to help answer the questions I know everyone has about the circumstances that led to this explosion,”; he told reporters.
It is not yet known what caused the fire responsible for igniting nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in the port of Beirut. But documents have emerged showing that the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the reserves. French investigators are also taking part in the investigation.
The U.S. embassy said Hale is expected to “reiterate the U.S. government’s commitment to helping the Lebanese people recover from the tragedy and rebuild their lives.” He will also stress the “urgent need” to embrace fundamental reforms by Lebanese leaders.
So far, Washington has provided $ 18 million in humanitarian assistance provided by the US Agency for International Development and the State and Defense departments.
The United States is one of the largest donors to the Lebanese Armed Forces. But Washington views Hezbollah, a powerful political player in government and parliament, as a terrorist group. US officials have expressed concern about help not to go to the Hezbollah-backed government.
The government resigned on Monday, almost a week after the blast that killed more than 170 people, injured at least 6,000 and destroyed the capital’s port and caused extensive damage across the capital. The government remains in a custodial capacity.
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On Thursday, the Lebanese Parliament approved a state of emergency in Beirut in its first session since the blast, giving it sweeping military powers amid growing popular anger over official corruption and political mismanagement and insecurity.
The disaster has raised popular anger among Lebanese leaders to a new level as the country pulls out of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, along with the coronavirus pandemic.
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Before resigning, the government declared a state of emergency that gave the military the power to declare a state of siege, prevent public gatherings and censor the media, and refer civilians to military courts for alleged security breaches. The action required approval from lawmakers, which they gave it on Thursday.
The move has been criticized by rights groups and others who say the civilian government was already operating with increased power due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some pointed to military attacks by protesters last week, fearing that prolonged powers could lead to the silence of the dispute.