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Ex-minister snubs Beirut blast probe, power cuts and winter storm: Everything you need to know this Thursday

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Thursday, February 18, 2021

Ex-minister snubs Beirut blast probe, power cuts and winter storm: Everything you need to know this Thursday

Snow covered the Roman Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek on Wednesday. (Credit: AFP)

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Ex-minister Youssef Fenianos will not honor his summons for questioning today before the lead investigator probing the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion. Charged with criminal negligence on Dec. 10 by Judge Fadi Sawwan, the former minister of public works and transportation tweeted Wednesday evening that he would not attend the hearing, claiming the notification he received was in violation of Lebanon’s code of criminal procedures. While some local media outlets reported that Sawwan issued an arrest warrant for Fenianos, judicial sources denied the news to L’Orient Today, saying a warrant can only be issued after the former minister fails to attend the hearing. Sawwan is also scheduled to question the former customs chief in Beirut, Moussa Hazimeh, today.

The winter storm battering Lebanon caused widespread power outages while blanketing mountainous regions under snow. Starting from 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, most of the country was disconnected from the state’s beleaguered electrical grid due to the storm, Électricité du Liban said. Snowfall was registered yesterday at altitudes as low as 700 meters, the National News Agency reported, adding that torrents of rain swept through Syrian refugee encampments in the Bekaa. More inclement weather is expected today, with forecasts for the lowest temperatures yet this year.

Lebanon registered another day of increasing COVID-19 deaths, after 60 people fell victim to the virus, while efforts continued to supply more vaccines. The caretaker minister met yesterday with Russia’s envoy to Lebanon to discuss facilitating the import of Russia’s Sputnik V shots. Following the meeting, Hamad Hassan said that his ministry would seek to acquire 1 million more vaccine doses for the national inoculation campaign, while adding that political parties or social and trade unions could acquire the remaining quantities. Lebanon’s vaccination drive began Sunday, with the country so far ordering 6.3 million doses, enough for only half the population.

The exchange rate at shops selling dollars has risen above LL9,000 for the first time since July, prior to the Beirut port explosion, fall of Hassan Diab’s government, nomination of Saad Hariri as premier-designate and the deadly spike in the COVID-19 pandemic. After trading just shy of LL9,000 to the dollar for nearly a month, the Lebanese lira value dropped as low as LL9,150 to the US dollar on the parallel market on Wednesday. The central bank stopped injecting cash dollars into the market on Jan. 15, following the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown, a Class-A exchanger who requested anonymity told L’Orient Today.

The Syndicate of Private Hospitals has proposed raising hospital bills by 160 percent. In a letter sent Wednesday to the caretaker health minister and chairperson of the National Social Security Fund, the lobby suggested pricing hospital bills at Banque du Liban’s exchange platform rate of LL3,900 to the US dollar, instead of the official peg of LL1,507.5. The syndicate cautioned that amid the unprecedented health and financial crises in Lebanon, hospitals have managed to carry out their duties, “but we don’t know how long this can last.”


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Ex-minister Youssef Fenianos will not honor his summons for questioning today before the lead investigator probing the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion. Charged with criminal negligence on Dec. 10 by Judge Fadi Sawwan, the former minister of public works and transportation tweeted Wednesday evening that he would not attend the hearing,...