The claim: The prime minister of Israel has confirmed the Beirut explosion as an attack of their own
Following the deadly explosion that shook Lebanon's capital Beirut on Tuesday and killed at least 135 people and wounded 5,000, social media posts surfaced claiming the blast was caused by an Israeli attack.
"BREAKING: PM Netanyahu of Israel has just confirmed the drone strike in Beirut, Lebanon as their own in another Attack against the vicious terrorist organization Hezbollah," an Aug. 4 Facebook post reads as a screenshot of an Instagram post. "The location was a firecracker factory which is said to have been storing and possibly even creating weapons for the terrorist organization in multiple plots against Israel."
The poster updated the caption, writing, "UPDATE; Israel has just confirmed alongside with Lebanese officials they had nothing todo with these attacks."
In an Instagram message to USA TODAY, @keepamerica.usa said it received this information minutes after the explosion from a source who lives in Beirut.
"He paired information which seemed at the time to show Israel admitting to the attack on the PM's Twitter account. Later did they explain that the tweet was regarding an Hezbollah attack in Syria," the account said, adding that they retracted the original statement a little over an hour after it was posted when officials confirmed Israel had nothing to do with the attacks.
The claim that the explosion was an Israeli attack was also shared by Veterans Today, a website that "generally promotes conspiracies related to the military and Israel," according to Media Bias/Fact Check.
The Facebook page If Americans Knew shared the claim, citing a blog post that is headlined "'BREAKING: Israel Bombed Beirut'– Silverstein." The Facebook post now has over 4,000 shares and over 1,000 reactions.
USA TODAY has reached out to both sites for comment.
President Donald Trump also said on Tuesday that the Beirut explosion looked like an attack, but there is no evidence the explosion was an attack and officials are still investigating the cause. A day later, the president softened that assertion: “Whatever happened, it’s terrible,” Trump told reporters of the explosion. “They don’t really know what it is ... I don’t think anybody can say right now.”
What is known
The blast appears to have been caused by an accidental fire in a warehouse facility that held 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port, causing losses estimated to be somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion and leaving nearly 300,000 people homeless.
Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical commonly used in explosives for mining and as an agricultural fertilizer.
In an interview with LBC TV on Wednesday, the head of Lebanon's customs department said officials sent five or six letters over the years to the judiciary requesting that the ammonium nitrate be removed due to the dangers it posed. The government said on Wednesday that port officials are under house arrest and an investigation was underway.
"If Israel were in fact responsible, the result could be a war with Hezbollah and Hezbollah’s patron Iran that could even embroil the United States and other nations in a vast Middle East conflagration," Forbes reported.
U.S. Defense Department officials have stated that the explosion was likely an accident, contradicting the president.
“Most believe it was an accident, as reported,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Conference in Colorado.
A senior U.S. Defense Department official and member of the U.S. intelligence community told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that there are no indications the explosion was the result of an attack by either a nation-state or proxy forces.
Israel denies involvement
Israeli officials have denied claims suggesting that Israel is to blame for the massive explosion that tore through Beirut.
Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli N12 television news that the Beirut explosion was likely an accident caused by a fire, Reuters reported. An Israel official on the condition of anonymity told Reuters that "Israel has nothing to do with the incident."
Major Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director of Lebanon's General Security, told Lebanese media that the source of the explosion, which struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, might have been highly explosive materials that were seized from a ship and being held at port, USA TODAY reported.
The Lebanese presidential account tweeted Tuesday that the material was identified as ammonium nitrate, referencing Prime Minister Hassan Diab's words: "It is unacceptable that a shipment of ammonium nitrate estimated at 2,750 tons has been present for six years in a warehouse without taking preventive measures that endanger the safety of citizens."
Israel offers humanitarian help
Despite conflicts between the two countries, Israel officials and hospitals reached out overnight to offer help to those injured in Lebanon, The Times of Israel reported.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Israel "offered Lebanese government — via international intermediaries — medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance," Al Arabiya reported.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted on Tuesday, "We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time."
"Under the guidance of the @Israel_MOD and @IsraelMFA, Israel has offered to send humanitarian & medical assistance to Lebanon via security and international channels," Israel Defense Forces tweeted following the blast. "This is the time to transcend conflict."
Our ruling: False
Posts stating Israel was behind the massive explosion in Beirut are not true. Israel officials have denied any involvement and have offered aid to Lebanon. Lebanese officials have also stressed that an investigation of the explosion is still ongoing and the exact cause of the incident is unclear. We rate this claim as FALSE because it is not supported by our research.
Our fact-check sources:
The Times of Israel, Israel’s offer of aid to Lebanon is normal, minister says, as some question help
Al Arabiya, Israel denies being behind Lebanon blast: Source
Associated Press, Negligence probed in deadly Beirut blast amid public anger
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: No evidence Beirut blast was an Israeli attack