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FBI team arrives in Beirut to take part in Port explosion probe (Associated Press)

PortandTerminal.com, August 16, 2020

BEIRUT – Associated Press (AP) is reporting that a team of FBI investigators was due to arrive in Lebanon this weekend to take part in the probe of Beirut’s massive explosion, a senior U.S official said today after visiting the location of the blast.

David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs
File Photo: David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs

David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, called for a thorough and transparent investigation. He said the FBI team is taking part at the invitation of Lebanese authorities to find answers about what caused the Aug. 4 explosion that killed nearly 180 people and wounded thousands.

The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored at the port. French investigators are also taking part in the Lebanese-led probe.

“We really need to make sure that there is a thorough, a transparent and credible investigation. I know that is what everyone is demanding,” Hale said.

Search and rescue crews flew in from around the world in the immediate aftermath. Hale toured the site of the blast with Lebanese army officers.

Many Lebanese want the probe taken out of the hands of their government, fearing that bickering among the long-entrenched political factions, notorious for corruption, won’t allow any results to come to light that are damaging to their leadership.

Top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have rejected calls for an independent probe, describing it as “a waste of time” that would be politicized.

Popular anger has swelled over corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty. Western leaders said they will send aid directly to the Lebanese people and that billions of dollars will not be pumped into the country until major reforms have taken place.

Under pressure, Lebanon’s government resigned on August 10. So far, there have been no formal consultations on who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged. But the flurry of diplomatic visits appeared designed to influence the forming of the new government.

Late on Friday, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said he did not trust any international investigation, a clear reference to the FBI assistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion is still unclear, adding that any international probe would likely seek to clear Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion, if it had any.

Nasrallah added that Israel will be met “with an equally devastating response” if the investigation points to its involvement.

Israel has denied involvement and so far no evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. However, Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah, has said it’s one of the theories being investigated.

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