BEIRUT – The FBI will join Lebanese and international investigators in the investigation into the massive explosion at the port of Beirut that killed more than 170 people, injured thousands and caused widespread destruction, a US diplomat said Thursday.
Lebanese authorities had invited the FBI to participate, and this is a way for Washington to help the country cope with the effects of the disaster, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said as he visited the Gemayezeh district, which was damaged by the 4th blast.
“The FBI will soon be joining Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese to help answer questions that I know everyone is asking about the circumstances that led to this explosion,” he said. to journalists.
It is still not 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 that show the country’s top leaders and security officials were aware of the reservation. French investigators are also participating in the investigation.
The US Embassy said Hale should “reiterate the US government’s commitment to help the Lebanese people recover from the tragedy and rebuild their lives.” He will also underline the “urgent need” to adopt fundamental reforms by the Lebanese leadership.
Washington has so far offered $ 18 million in humanitarian aid provided by the US Agency for International Development and the Departments of State and Defense.
The United States is a major donor to the Lebanese armed forces. But Washington considers Hezbollah, a powerful political actor in government and parliament, to be a terrorist group. US officials have expressed concerns that aid is not going to the Hezbollah-backed government.
The government resigned Monday, nearly a week after the explosion that killed more than 170 people, injured at least 6,000 people and destroyed the port of the capital and caused extensive damage throughout the capital. The government remains interim.
Lebanese activists fear military cracking in case of emergency
The Lebanese parliament on Thursday approved a state of emergency in Beirut in its first session since the explosion, granting the military sweeping powers amid growing popular anger over official corruption and mismanagement and political uncertainty.
The disaster has raised popular fury at Lebanese leaders to a new level as the country recovers from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
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Before resigning, the government declared a state of emergency which gave the military the power to declare curfews, prevent public gatherings and censor the media, as well as send civilians to court. military personnel for alleged security breaches. The action required the approval of lawmakers, which they granted on Thursday.
The move has been criticized by rights groups and others who say the civilian government was already operating with increased powers due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some have pointed to the military crackdown on protesters last week, fearing the sweeping powers could lead to silencing dissent.