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Lebanon’s leaders were warned in July that explosives ‘could destroy’ Beirut, report says – Fox News

Lebanese security officials who were concerned about the massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port had sent a letter to the country’s prime minister and president two weeks before the blast, warning that the material “could destroy” the capital city if it exploded, a report says.

The letter had summed up the results of a judicial investigation launched in January surrounding the 2,750 tons of highly-explosive material being kept there, Reuters reported, citing a senior security official. The ammonium nitrate ended up exploding following a fire on August 4, killing at least 220 people, injuring more than 7,000 others, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

“There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack,” an official involved in writing the letter told Reuters.

TREY YINGST REPORTS FROM LEBANON AFTER PRIME MINISTER, CABINET RESIGN

“I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” he added.

Reuters could not independently confirm the contents of the letter, but a representative for Prime Minister Hassan Diab said his government acted immediately upon receiving it.

“The current cabinet received the file 14 days prior to the explosion and acted on it in a matter of days,” the official told Reuters. “Previous administrations had over six years and did nothing.”

Diab and his Cabinet resigned Monday in the wake of the explosion’s fallout.

President Michel Aoun, meanwhile, said last week he was aware of the ammonium nitrate in Beirut and ordered security and military agencies under his watch to take care of the issue, Reuters reports.

“[The state security service] said it is dangerous. I am not responsible! I don’t know where it was put and I didn’t know how dangerous it was,” the news agency quoted him as saying. “I have no authority to deal with the port directly. There is a hierarchy and all those who knew should have known their duties to do the necessary.”

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The investigation launched in January reportedly centered around the hangar at the port where the material was being kept after it was seized from a Russian-chartered, Moldovan-flagged ship in December 2013.

The probe was initiated after it was discovered that the hangar was unguarded and had a hole in one of its walls, according to Reuters.

Prosecutor General Oweidat, at the conclusion of the investigation, “gave orders immediately” to secure and repair the hangar, another security official told the news agency.

The fire that ended up sparking the explosion was caused by workers who were welding on-site, Reuters reports.

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“Given that there were fireworks stored in the same hangar, after an hour a big fire was set off by the fireworks and that spread to the material that exploded when the temperature exceeded 210 degrees,” the official said.

“Only because the hangar faces the sea, the impact of the explosion was reduced. Otherwise all of Beirut would have been destroyed,” he added. “The issue is all about negligence, irresponsibility, bad storage and bad judgment.”

Fox News’ Talia Kaplan contributed to this report. 

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Lebanon’s Prime Minister Resigns Days After Beirut Explosion – NPR

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab gives a speech in Beirut in March. Diab announced his resignation days after a disastrous explosion rocked Beirut.

Dalati Nohra/AP


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Dalati Nohra/AP

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab gives a speech in Beirut in March. Diab announced his resignation days after a disastrous explosion rocked Beirut.

Dalati Nohra/AP

Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his cabinet’s resignation Monday, responding to outrage over a catastrophic explosion in Beirut.

“Today I announce the resignation of this government,” Diab said in a national TV address. “May God protect Lebanon.”

Diab’s speech was published by the National News Agency in Lebanon, the state-run media outlet.

His resignation came after last Tuesday’s deadly warehouse explosion — caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port — that killed at least 160 people, wounded thousands and left many homeless, destroying a portion of the city.

Public anger mounted after the blast, focusing on the carelessness that led to one of the worst explosions in Lebanon’s history.

The huge trove of dangerous material, which officials say was known about for years, had been allowed to languish in the port since 2013. Intense protests erupted, with many calling for top officials to “resign or hang.”

“We are facing an earthquake that struck the country, with all its humanitarian, social, economic and national repercussions,” Diab said.

With the prime minister’s resignation, it now falls to President Michel Aoun to determine the next steps.

After Diab presented his government’s resignation papers to Aoun late Monday, Aoun asked Diab and his ministers to continue performing their duties until a new government is installed, according the presidency’s Twitter account.

Diab, a 61-year-old professor and former minister of education, has only been in the role since January. When he took over, Diab faced many of the same challenges that forced his predecessor, Saad Hariri, to resign. Even before the recent disaster, Lebanon was seeing widespread and persistent protests over allegations of political corruption, and frustration with a deepening economic crisis.

Beirut Explosion Looks Like An Accident — And A Sign Of The Country's Collapse

Lebanon has a power-sharing government structure, where different groups are each represented by an arm of the government. The political system mandates that the presidency must go to a Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.

This system has been blamed for the country’s past political instability and division. NPR has reported the split up nature of Lebanon’s system has made it difficult for citizens to organize effectively against leadership — and to secure meaningful political change.

Going forward, one option would be for Lebanon to hold early elections. But Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said that will not be enough.

“Calling for early elections prior to the explosion on Aug. 4 may have placated people, but not after,” Yahya said. “We are way past that. The scale of the tragedy and the depth of the anger is just too much.”

The best-case scenario for moving forward, according to Yahya, is that an independent prime minister be named who would undertake economic reforms and “put together an economic and financial rescue plan, but also to prepare for elections next year.”

Yahya said the Lebanese people need to have a “roadmap” out of the pain they are experiencing — from the explosion but also from the country’s dismal economy.

“You need to explain to people why they’re going through this. And those that are responsible will be held accountable,” Yahya said. “And you have to show them the way out. You need to show them there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

“And given all the questions around the political legitimacy of the current political class, you give them a way to vote them out and vote whoever they think now represents them in.”

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