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Trump now says Beirut blast may have been accident, not attack

WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the deadly Beirut explosion may have been an accident, after raising eyebrows earlier suggesting it was an attack.

Mr Trump said it is still unclear what happened, although Lebanese officials have blamed the massive eruption on a poorly secured stockpile of fertiliser ingredient ammonium nitrate.

On Tuesday, he said it appeared to have been caused by a "bomb of some kind", citing unnamed US "generals" for the information.

"It looks like a terrible attack," he said.

But on Wednesday, the US leader said the question was still unanswered, as he pledged US support to Lebanon.

Said Mr Trump: "I can tell you whatever happened, it's terrible. But they don't really know what it is. Nobody knows yet.

"How can you say accident? Somebody... left some terrible explosive-type devices and things around perhaps. Perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack. I don't think anybody can say right now.

"I've heard it both ways."

Mr Trump's comments came after the Pentagon declined to confirm his "generals" claim, and Defence Secretary Mark Esper supported the accident explanation for the explosion, which left at least 145 people dead, including at least one American, and thousands hurt.

"I'm still getting information on what happened," Mr Esper told the Aspen Security Forum.

"Most believe that it was an accident as reported," he said.

Mr Trump said the US stands by Lebanon, a long-standing ally in the Middle East but whose powerful political and paramilitary group Hezbollah is designated a terrorist group by Washington.

The quantity of ammonium nitrate was equivalent to 1,800 tonnes of TNT.

The ammonium nitrate was unloaded from the cargo ship Rhosus in 2014, according to two letters issued by the director-general of Lebanese Customs, Bloomberg reported.

Dockworkers then unloaded the chemical and put it into storage. - AFP

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