A team of FBI investigators will arrive in Lebanon this weekend to take part in the investigation into the Beirut explosion, a senior U.S. official said after visiting the location of the blast.
David Hale, the U.S. Secretary of State for Political Affairs, called on Saturday for an in-depth and transparent investigation. He said the FBI team responded to the invitation from Lebanese authorities to find out what caused the August 4 explosion that killed nearly 180 people and injured thousands.
The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored at the port. France is also taking part in the Lebanese-led survey.
“We really have to make sure that there is an in-depth, transparent and credible investigation. I know that is what everyone demands, ”said Hale.
Searches and rescuers flew in the immediate aftermath from all over the world. Hale toured the site of the explosion with Lebanese army officers.
Many Lebanese people want the investigation to be taken out of the hands of their government, for fear that baking among the trusted political factions, notorious for corruption, the results will not come to light that could harm their leadership.
Top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have rejected calls for an independent inquiry, describing it as “a waste of time” that would be politicized.
On Friday, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said he did not trust international investigations, in a clear reference to FBI assistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion was still unclear, adding that any international investigation should also clear Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion.
Nasrallah added that Israel would be met “with an equally devastating response” if the investigation pointed to its involvement.
Israel has denied involvement and so far no evidence has emerged that suggests otherwise. However, Aoun, who is backed by Hezbollah, said it was one of the theories being investigated.
Hale also stressed the need for full state control over ports and borders, in an apparent reference to claims that Hezbollah has influence over both in Lebanon. “We can never go back to a time when everything was going on at the port or the borders of Lebanon,” he said.
The Lebanese government resigned on August 10. For now, there is no formal discussion going on about who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged. But the onslaught of diplomatic visits appeared to be designed to influence the formation of the new government.
Public anger has risen over corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty of the ruling elite. Western leaders have 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 take place.
On Friday, the United Nations launched a $ 565 million (£ 432 million) call for Lebanon with immediate humanitarian assistance and initial recovery efforts.
Washington and its allies view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and have accused the Iranian support group of misusing government funds. Local media have speculated that Hale would put pressure on a government that excludes Hezbollah.