President Emmanuel Macron will visit Lebanon Thursday, the first world leader in Beirut after the port blast that wreaked destruction across the capital, as France seeks to provide its former colony with urgent disaster aid.
The blast on Tuesday blamed on an unsecured store of ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port devastated entire neighbourhoods, killed over 100 people and left up to 300,000 without homes.
It was the latest blow to a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis and political turbulence.
And there is growing exasperation with the powerful elite across Lebanon's different confessional communities.
"I will go to Beirut tomorrow to bring the Lebanese people a message of fraternity and solidarity from the French," Macron wrote on Twitter.
"We will discuss the situation with the political authorities," he added.
The president's Elysee Palace office said Macron will "meet all political actors", including President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Both sides will be hoping the visit goes more smoothly than a trip last month by France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian, who scolded Lebanon's political elite for being too "passive" in the face of an economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the aftermath of that visit, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned in protest at his government's lack of crisis management.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Wednesday at least 21 French citizens were injured in the blast and prosecutors had opened a probe into "negligent injury" using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad.
'Strength to recover'
Beirut governor Marwan Aboud told AFP the estimated cost of the damage from the explosion was between $3.0 billion and $5.0 billion.
France on Wednesday sent three planes to Beirut loaded with rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic.
Two military planes would leave from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris with 55 search and rescue personnel on board and 25 tonnes of medical supplies.
A third plane, provided by the chief executive of shipping giant CMA-CGM Rodolphe Saade who is of Lebanese origin, took off from Marseille with medical equipment and a nine-strong medical team.
Le Drian said France will continue mobilising assistance as needed.
"For now, it is time to ensure international solidarity" with Lebanon, he told the LCI broadcaster, adding the destruction of silos holding grain in the blast was a particular concern.
"There will also be a food need that is indispensable because the grain silos themselves exploded."
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization expressed fear Wednesday that the destruction of the silos would result in critical flour shortages.
The 55 rescuers deployed from Paris Wednesday are specialists in post-disaster rubble clearing and rescue, said the Elysee.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex would on Wednesday gather ministers responsible for coordinating aid to Beirut.
"As always, France will be there to show the solidarity and friendship that it has maintained with the Lebanese people for decades," he said.
Le Drian reaffirmed the message from his own Beirut trip that reforms were essential for Lebanon to move on.
"The country has the necessary strength to recover what is needed is that a certain number of reforms are put in place."