Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad, Environment Minister Damianos Kattar and several members of parliament stepped down. But the actions fell far short of the demands of protesters enraged at the country's political elite.
In an indictment of Lebanon's government, Macron has indicated assistance should go directly to the Lebanese people. Trump reaffirmed that the United States is "ready and willing" to continue providing aid to the people of Lebanon, but no new U.S. assistance was announced Sunday.
The International Monetary Fund said it was ready to "redouble efforts" to help Lebanon, but institutions need to come together to carry out reforms — a demand the Lebanese government has resisted.
The blast at Beirut’s port, which killed at least 160 people, wounded thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless, has fueled calls for a complete shake-up of Lebanon’s atrophied political system, dominated by family dynasties that have changed little in the decades since the country’s 15-year civil war. The explosion has triggered outrage at the official corruption, incompetence and negligence that allowed 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in bombmaking, to sit unattended and unsecured at the port for six years.
During a cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged ministers who were considering resigning to wait, according to a person present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks.
As violent protests engulfed the city Saturday night, Diab offered early elections. He said he needed two months to reach an agreement with the country’s factions.
For citizens struggling from a catastrophic economic collapse and shattered homes, discussion of new political agreements falls woefully short.
“We are not going to quit,” Pascale Asmar, 33, said in the central Martyr’s Square, a focus of the protests. “We call [Diab] the vase, because he’s just for show, he does nothing.”
Diab’s government, formed in January after the last one quit following mass demonstrations in October, was supposed to be a rescue team of technocrats. But it was formed from familiar factions, including the Shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal.
“He told us, ‘Give us 100 days and I promise you I’m going to do something,’ ” Asmar said. “It’s been seven months, we’ve had a blast, we still have people buried under the rubble, and he wants to stay?”
Three members of parliament resigned Sunday, but there was little sign of the kind of change that would satisfy the street.
Diab told his cabinet they should “bear responsibility,” according to the person at the meeting. “Right now we cannot leave the country void and vacant,” he quoted the prime minister as saying.
The early elections offered by Diab are unlikely to materialize, said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. And even if they did, she said, any polls held soon would almost certainly benefit the ruling establishment.
She said the offer seemed designed more to appease the international community ahead of the aid conference Sunday.
"It's a trap," she said. "He knows that early elections would resuscitate the current system."
But Diab's government is clearly teetering, said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.
"It's a lame duck government not capable of doing anything, not trusted by the international community, not trusted by the people and not trusted even by the people who brought him to power," Yahya said.
Paula Yacoubian, an independent member of parliament, announced her resignation on Saturday, as did three members with the Kitaeb party.
“I cannot stay within the mafia,” Yacoubian said. “They stole everything, they destroyed the country, and they want to continue doing business as usual.”
After the explosion, she said, the only “reasonable and sane” thing to do is to ask the government to resign “and to start again.” At least seven members of parliament have resigned, and at least two others have announced plans to do so.
The blast left a city that was plunged into poverty by last year’s economic collapse struggling to repair shattered homes and businesses. International donors say they are ready to help, but there has been a reluctance to give money to a government notorious for siphoning foreign aid from the projects for which it is intended.
“Everyone wants to help!” Trump tweeted. John Barsa, the acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, planned to go to Beirut this week to assess needs in the wake of the explosions.
USAID last week said it would give Lebanon more than $15 million in humanitarian aid to assist in the response to the damage. The U.S. military said it has begun to deliver food, water and medical supplies to Beirut.
Barsa told reporters Sunday the assistance will not go through the Lebanese government, which has been the subject of protests condemning corruption. Nor will it go through the World Health Organization, from which the Trump administration has said it will withdraw.
He said health kits will be delivered to the medical center at the American University of Beirut, and the hospital connected with the Lebanese American University. About $2.5 million is to be directed to the World Food Program.
Macron said “we must act quickly and efficiently so that this aid goes directly to where it is needed,” Reuters reported. “Lebanon’s future is at stake.”
The conference's decision to channel aid through the United Nations came as a disappointment to many Lebanese, Slim said, because the United Nations typically works closely with government institutions.
"I'm afraid the aid, under the guise of humanitarian assistance, will be used one more time to give a lifeline to the kleptocratic class," she said.
Protesters on Saturday occupied government buildings, set fires and threw rocks toward security forces who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Some accused security forces of firing tear gas canisters before the demonstration began and beating demonstrators without provocation. The Lebanese Red Cross said at least 65 people were transported to hospitals and 185 were treated at the scene. The army said 105 of its soldiers were injured.
New demonstrations on Sunday were smaller than those of a day earlier. Some said the violence of Saturday night was keeping people away. But as night fell, rock-throwing protesters clashed with security forces near the parliament.
Protesters in Martyr’s Square chanted for revenge and reform. Some said their friends were exhausted. “Everyone is recovering,” Aline Harfoush said. But others said they were ready for more tear gas. “It’s a revolution,” said Marcelino Khoury Hanna, 22, dressed in fatigues and accompanying a vehicle of men. They were supporting Chamel Roukoz, son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who backed an earlier wave of protests. “We’re ready to fight back.”
Taxi driver Talal Monzer, 35, was offering free rides to activists traveling back-and-forth from the square on Sunday.
The government has to go, he said. “We need new people — people from among the people.” He said the sectarian power-sharing system that has been in place since the civil war ended in 1990 needs to be replaced.
Adding to the anger are the many open questions about the blast, including what triggered an initial fire and explosion before the ammonium nitrate blew up in a mushroom cloud, and how it came to be left in the port unsecured for years.
Macron has offered to help with an international inquiry, but Lebanese officials have rejected the offer.
Aoun said demands for an international investigation into the explosion are aimed at “wasting time.” He said the judiciary would act swiftly “without rushing to confirm who is a criminal and who is innocent.”
Some Lebanese suspect there were munitions at the port, which is widely believed to be used by Hezbollah, which is both a political party and a heavily armed militia. They have little faith in the government’s ability to give answers.
“You can’t tell a criminal to go and investigate their own crimes,” Asmar said.
After days of searching, some international rescue teams were packing up to go home on Sunday. The Lebanese army said teams that were searching for bodies were still working in the port.
“No single international team found any survivors,” said Col. Mariusz Feltynowski, team leader with Poland’s state fire service, which sent 42 rescuers and four sniffer dogs. “The government decided yesterday to end the rescue phase.”
French and Russian teams found around 10 bodies, he said.
Nader Durgham and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut and Suzan Haidamous and Felicia Sonmez in Washington contributed to this report.