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Morning Brief

Port explosion probe on hold, Lebanese lira slide, by-elections promise: Everything you need to know to start your Friday

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, February 19, and this weekend

Port explosion probe on hold, Lebanese lira slide, by-elections promise: Everything you need to know to start your Friday

Some families of the victims of the Aug. 4 port explosion gathered outside the Justice Palace on Thursday evening to protest Judge Fadi Sawwan's removal from the case. (Credit: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

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The investigation into the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion was put on hold indefinitely, raising concerns the probe could return to square one. On Thursday, Lebanon’s highest appeals court removed Judge Fadi Sawwan as the lead investigator in the case. The controversial decision comes in response to a plea filed by two ex-ministers, charged by Sawwan with criminal negligence, arguing that the investigating judge be replaced. The caretaker justice minister now must propose a new judge to lead the investigation, who then must be approved by the Higher Judicial Council, and the investigation will start over, a judicial source told L’Orient Today. After hearing the news, grieving families of victims of the explosion gathered outside the Justice Palace to protest the ruling, six months after the devastating blast with accountability nowhere near in sight.

Fifty-four more COVID-19-related deaths were registered yesterday, 35 days into Lebanon’s strict lockdown and round-the-clock curfew. Meanwhile, hospitals’ intensive care units were at 84.7 percent capacity, as of Feb.17, with ICU numbers dropping further Thursday. At the end of Sunday, one-year to the day since Lebanon detected its first COVID-19 case, the country is tentatively set to move out of the initial phase of a gradual reopening. Further details on the scheduled second stage of reopening are expected in the coming days.

The exchange rate at shops selling dollars has risen above LL9,500 for the first time since July 3. After trading just shy of LL9,000 to the dollar for about a month, the Lebanese currency value dropped as low as LL9,550 yesterday. The market rate closed at LL9,400 after significant fluctuations during the afternoon.

The caretaker interior minister vowed that Lebanon will hold special elections to replace 10 vacant seats in Parliament by the end of March. Nabih Berri said in a statement Thursday that he spoke over the phone with Mohamed Fehmi, who told the parliament speaker that the by-elections would happen by the end of next month “at the latest.” Eight members of Parliament resigned in the days following the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast, including Kataeb MPs Sami Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel and Elias Hankash, as well as independent parliamentarians Paula Yacoubian, Neemat Frem, Henry Helou, Marwan Hamadeh and Michel Moawad. Meanwhile, the recent spike in COVID-19 related deaths has claimed the lives of MPs Jean Obeid and Michel Murr.

Following days of a winter storm that has dumped snow across the country, weather conditions are expected to improve in the coming days. Forecasts anticipate further snow today, with a slight rise in temperatures as Storm Joyce’s intensity lets up over the weekend.

Gebran Bassil will address the public on Sunday, a week after his father-in-law, President Michel Aoun, and the premier-designate sparred over the government formation process. The Free Patriotic Movement leader’s words will come on the heels of Hassan Nasrallah’s speech Tuesday, in which the Hezbollah chief proposed a compromise to achieve government formation, suggesting that a larger cabinet in which no party holds veto power could be formed. Last Sunday, Saad Hariri blamed the president for obstructing the formation of a new government, saying Aoun wanted to obtain a “blocking third” of ministers. The president fired back the same day, saying that the premier-designate’s speech was inaccurate.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up. The investigation into the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion was put on hold indefinitely, raising concerns the probe could return to square one. On Thursday, Lebanon’s highest appeals court removed Judge Fadi Sawwan as the lead investigator in the case. The controversial decision comes in response to a plea filed by two ex-ministers,...