A team of FBI investigators is scheduled to arrive in Lebanon this weekend to participate in the investigation of the massive beirut explosion, a senior U.S. official said Saturday after visiting the site of the explosion. 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 in the invitation of the Lebanese authorities to find answers about the causes of the August 4 explosion that killed nearly 180 people and wounded thousands. The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing that the country’s top leaders and security officials were aware of chemicals stored in the port. French researchers are also involved in Lebanese-led research.” We really need to make sure there’s a thorough, transparent and credible investigation. I know that’s what everyone’s demanding,” Hale said, search and rescue teams flew from all over the world immediately afterwards. Hale toured the site of the explosion with Lebanese army officers. Many Lebanese want the investigation to be out of the hands of their government, for fear that long-standing, corruption-noticing political factions disputes will not allow any outcome that is detrimental to their leadership to come to light. Senior Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, rejected requests for an independent investigation and described it as “a waste of time” that would be politicized. On Friday night, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said he did not rely on any international investigation, on a clear reference to FBI assistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion is still unclear, adding that any international investigation would also have to relieve Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion. Nasrallah added that Israel will receive “an equally devastating response” if the investigation points to its involvement. Israel has denied involvement and so far there has been no evidence to suggest otherwise. However, Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah, has said it is one of the theories being investigated. On Saturday, French investigators were spotted in boats and on land near the blast site. A French helicopter carrier was docked at the port while French troops unloaded the equipment. French troops on foot and in vehicles were moving through the port. In a commercial part of the port that was undamaged from the explosion, workers were unloading wheat. The UN says 30% of the port remains operational. Hale also emphasized the need for full state control over ports and borders, in an apparent reference to claims that Hezbollah has influence over both in Lebanon.Under pressure, Lebanon’s government resigned on August 10. For now, there is no ongoing formal consultation on who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged. But the wave of diplomatic visits seemed designed to influence the formation of the new government. Popular anger has been increased by corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty of the ruling elite. Western leaders have said they will send aid directly to the Lebanese people and that no billions of dollars will be injected into the country before major reforms are carried out. On Friday, the United Nations launched a $565 million appeal for Lebanon with immediate humanitarian assistance and initial recovery efforts. Washington and its allies consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization and have accused the Iran-backed group of abusing government funds. Local media have speculated that Hale would push for a government that excludes Hezbollah.Also on Saturday, families and friends buried Ralph Malahi, a 23-year-old firefighter who was among the 10 firefighters killed in the explosion. Malahi received a hero’s funeral, starting from the fire center. Lifting Malahi’s coffin, thousands paraded through different parts of the city, firing into the air in commemoration. His body eventually reached a church in the Furn el-Chebak neighborhood of Beirut, where they prayed for Malahi.Malahi is the seventh firefighter to recover from under the rubble in the harbor at the blast site. Tres are still missing. Malahi’s mother, mourning, blamed the government for the death of her son. “Why didn’t you evacuate the port?” he said, referring to the government’s knowledge that highly explosive material was stored in the port.
translated from Spanish: FBI team to take part in Beirut explosion investigation
August 15, 2020 |