Lebanon's health ministry has raised the death toll to over 73 killed, including 3,700 wounded, after late afternoon a blast centered on Beirut's port unleashed a massive seismic shock and explosion that leveled an entire district of the city and was felt as far away as Cyprus in the Mediterranean.
Later in the evening Lebanon's Prime Minister announced that the explosions were caused by an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate left unsecured for 6 years in a warehouse. This came on the heels of a formal Israeli denial that it had anything to do with it, which also seemed be echoed by Hezbollah officials.
With the official consensus growing that the massive explosion was horrible accident due to neglect, President Trump's words on the tragedy once again presented that it could be something more. He said early in the evening that after meeting with top military commanders: "They seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind."
This after speculation and conspiracy theories were rampant throughout the day. After all it is Lebanon, which has witnessed decades of bombings, war, and covert intrigue, also as it borders Israel, war-torn Syria, as well as a corner of the Golan Heights. And the blast was so overwhelming in its force, destroying homes up to ten miles away, local residents thought they were under nuclear attack, especially given it briefly blocked out the sun and a mushroom cloud hovered over the city.
The president further said that it "looks like a terrible attack" — leaving people to again question whether there's intelligence he's seen that points to an attack or bombing. According to the AFP:
Trump says military experts tell him Beirut blast a 'bomb of some kind'.
"It was a bomb of some kind, yes" — he emphasized when questioned on it.
Without providing any evidence, President Trump claims the explosion in #Beirut is a result of an attack.— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) August 4, 2020
This contradicts the official statement of the Lebanese prime minister. @akhbarpic.twitter.com/QbfiS6DN68
His remarks were made during a Tuesday evening address to reporters:
Trump said he had been briefed by “our great generals” and that they “seem to feel” that the explosion was not an accident.
"According to them – they would know better than I would – but they seem to think it was an attack," Trump told reporters at the White House. "It was a bomb of some kind."
This has caused Israeli officials to be vehement in their denials that it could have been the result of Israeli attack, amid recent tensions with Hezbollah along Lebanon's southern border:
Israeli military sources tell Israeli 10 News reporter: Israel didn't bomb Beirut. The explosion did not occur in a Hezbollah weapons depot. This was not a security-related event. https://t.co/hgDXFVxZdH— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) August 4, 2020
Did Trump just reveal classified information? Was he merely speculating like everyone else?
Are his words based on legitimate intelligence information which contradicts the official story that it was an accident? It remains that he specifically invoked "our great generals" when citing the information.
So the President of the United States is (1) once again publicly revealing highly sensitive national security information; or (2) needlessly exacerbating an already tense and fraught reaction to a tragedy—or both.— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) August 4, 2020
Must be Tuesday... https://t.co/OvA7Xs7Vvw
It will be interesting to see if the Pentagon issues a follow-up in the wake of the president's unexpected comments.
Meanwhile Beirut has been declared a 'disaster zone' by Lebanon's defense council, with countries around the world pledging emergency aid.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also pledged aid after the "horrible tragedy".
The US Embassy in Lebanon was warned American citizens and residents in the surrounding area of the potential for toxic gases and chemicals in the air.
"There are reports of toxic gases released in the explosion so all in the area should stay indoors and wear masks if available," the embassy said on its website.