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Beirut explosion: Trump says three aircraft with medical supplies en route to Lebanon

Announcement comes after dozens of House members call on Mike Pompeo to deploy humanitarian relief funds for Beirut
Massive blast at Beirut's port devastated Lebanese capital on Tuesday (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that Washington has deployed three large aircraft to Lebanon with medical supplies, food and water, along with medical personnel to assist the country after the port blast that devastated Beirut, killing more than 150 people and injuring thousands earlier this week.

Trump made the announcement during a news conference at his golf-course property in New Jersey, and added that he would take part in a conference call on Sunday with leaders of Lebanon, France, and other countries, following the catastrophic blast in Beirut.

"I spoke with President Aoun of Lebanon to inform him that three large aircraft are on the way and they're fully loaded with medical supplies, food, water," Trump said. "Also first responders, technicians, doctors and nurses are on their way."

The enormous explosion on Tuesday razed most of the port in Beirut, a major lifeline for the country's struggling economy. Over the past year, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 80 percent of its value in an economic crisis more recently compounded by the spread of the coronavirus. 

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Tuesday's blast was caused by the detonation of a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used for fertilizers, that was inexplicably stored at the port. 

The blast damaged buildings across the capital, rendering thousands of residents homeless.

"On behalf of the United States, I want to extend our condolences to all of the families... who lost loved ones, relatives, friends in this horrible tragedy," Trump said.

"We stand firmly with the people of Lebanon and will continue to offer our full support through this very difficult time."

Congress urges humanitarian aid to Lebanon

The announcement from Trump comes after earlier on Friday dozens of US legislators urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to deploy humanitarian relief funds to help Lebanon cope with the aftermath of the blast.

In a letter addressed to Pompeo and signed by 88 members of the House of Representatives from both political parties, the legislators expressed "deep condolences" for Lebanon over the tragedy.

"Given the economic and public health challenges already facing Lebanon, we urge you to consider making available US resources to support the immediate humanitarian crisis facing the country, aid in the recovery effort - including medical care and treatment for the injured and efforts for cleanup of the blast site and other impacted areas," the letter said. 

The US lawmakers called on the administration to tap into resources designated for disaster relief assistance, including funds allocated for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

"We urge you to move quickly to deploy humanitarian relief funds for the people of Lebanon and support the multilateral efforts underway to address the impacts of the Beirut explosion," the letter said. 

The letter was led by four legislators of Lebanese descent - Darin LaHood, Garret Graves, Charlie Crist and Donna Shalala - as well as Michigan's Debbie Dingell, who represents a large Lebanese-American constituency.

Earlier on Friday, the US embassy in Beirut had pledged $17m in initial assistance to Lebanon.

Pompeo had said in a statement earlier this week that Washington was "ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this tragedy".

Trump had caused confusion around the blast when he claimed on Tuesday that the incident was caused by an attack, only to be contradicted by Defence Secretary Mark Esper a day later.

"Most believe that it was an accident, as reported, and beyond that, I have nothing further to report on. It's obviously a tragedy," Esper said on Wednesday.

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