President Donald Trump has called for a thorough and transparent investigation into Tuesday's deadly blast in Beirut, and offered to help Lebanon carry out the probe, special assistant to the president Judd Deere has announced.
In a series of tweets, Deere indicated that Trump made the comments at a virtual conference on Lebanon with international leaders.
"The President expressed his deepest condolences for those killed and injured in the Beirut explosion," and "reaffirmed that the United States stands ready and willing to continue providing aid to help the people of Lebanon in their recovery," Deere noted.
"President Trump also urged the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full and transparent investigation, in which the US stands ready to assist," the special assistant added.
In relation to the ongoing protests in Beirut, where protesters have engaged in violent clashes with police and the military while demanding the resignation of the government, Deere said that Trump "called for calm" but "acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform, and accountability."
Trump's latest comments follow remarks at a news conference on Wednesday in which he repeated his initial reaction to the Beirut explosion by suggesting it may have been the result of "a bomb of some kind."
"How can you say accident? Somebody left some terrible explosive type devices and things around...perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack. I don't think anybody can say right now. We're looking into it very strongly. Right now, you have some people think it was an attack and some people that think it wasn't," Trump said Wednesday.
On Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an investigation at the national level, and indicated that there were "two possible scenarios for what happened: it was either negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb."
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah suggested that the Lebanese Army should take over the investigation, because it enjoys the trust of all sectors of Lebanese society, and emphasized the need for a transparent probe in which "nobody should be protected" and where those responsible are held to account.
Over 150 people were killed and 6,000 wounded in Tuesday's ammonium nitrate explosion in the Beirut port, with part of the city leveled and as many as 300,000 people left displaced. Authorities estimate that the blast caused as much as $15 billion in damage. Countries around the world including Russia, China, Iran, the United States, Turkey and the European Union have rushed doctors, rescue workers and material aid to the country to help the city get back on its feet following the catastrophe.
Cleanup efforts have been complicated by massive street protests in the city center, with over 490 people injured and at least one police officer killed in clashes, which have included rioters taking over control of government buildings. The US Embassy in Beirut appeared to side with the demonstrators on Friday, tweeting its support for them "in their right to peaceful protest," while encouraging "all involved to refrain from violence."
Dr. Mohammad Marandi, a Tehran-based academic and political analyst, told Sputnik Friday that he believes that the protests are likely led by opposition forces who would probably lose an election, and so "have chosen to push for violence on the streets" instead.