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Morning Brief

Oxygen from Syria, Beirut blast investigator looks abroad, Parliament’s next agenda: Everything you need to know

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Thursday, March 25

Oxygen from Syria, Beirut blast investigator looks abroad, Parliament’s next agenda: Everything you need to know

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Lebanon was running dangerously low on oxygen because supply ships from Turkey had been unable to unload due to stormy weather. (Credit: Hussam Shbaro)

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Syria is set to deliver 75 tons of oxygen to Lebanon after the caretaker health minister made an “emergency” trip to Damascus. Following the visit, Hamad Hassan said Lebanon was running dangerously low on oxygen because supply ships from Turkey had been unable to unload due to stormy weather. A statement from oxygen provider SOAL said the increased pressure on supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and import delays had put the country at risk of severe shortages. According to Hassan Wazni, the director of Nabatieh’s public hospital, consumption is 10 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. The donation, which was green-lit by Bashar al-Assad, is being seen as a means of polishing the Syrian president’s image, and comes amid reports of oxygen shortages in Syria.

Lebanon received a first batch of 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine yesterday — enough to fully vaccinate 16,800 residents. A total of 150,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be delivered to Lebanon by early next month, acting Health Ministry Director-General Fadi Sinan said from the Beirut airport. The vaccine is being supplied to Lebanon through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to promote equal vaccine access. The WHO and European Medicines Agency have approved the vaccine, though approval by the US Food and Drug Administration is pending further trial data. Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Habchi invited his constituents in Baalbeck-Hermel to register for COVID-19 inoculation at one of his three offices, becoming the latest politician to promise vaccines for his electorate. Parliamentary elections are slated for next year.

Judge Tarek Bitar has asked global financial institutions to share information about the bank accounts of the company that procured the ammonium nitrate that blew up Beirut. Bitar, the lead investigator in the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion case, requested that banks in Cyprus, the US, the UAE and Germany provide access to the accounts of Savaro Limited, a trading firm that first bought the chemicals in 2013. An investigation by journalist Firas Hatoum found possible links between the company and two Syrian businessmen whom the US has sanctioned for supporting the Assad regime.

As the cabinet formation deadlock persists, Hassan Diab asked Parliament to more clearly define the role of his resigned government, in an apparent response to calls from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for its “reactivation.” The outgoing premier asked Parliament to conduct a “constitutional interpretation” that sets out the powers of a caretaker government, saying his cabinet is simultaneously accused of failing to act and of going beyond its constitutional authority. Since the government resigned in the wake of the Beirut blast last August, decisions that cabinet ministers would normally vote on have effectively been made by the outgoing premier and President Michel Aoun.

Parliament is scheduled to hold a legislative session at 11 a.m. on Monday with only two items on the agenda. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri summoned MPs to a plenary session — the second this month — to vote on a $200 million advance payment to EDL to import fuel for power generation and a draft law that aims to recover funds and assets illegally obtained through corruption. Even if passed, this law depends on the activation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, a body whose members have never been appointed.

Banque du Liban has renewed a policy allowing dollar depositors to withdraw their funds at the central bank’s market rate until the end of September. Clients can take out up to $5,000 per month at a rate of LL3,900 per dollar, while additional withdrawals must be taken out at the official rate of about LL1,500. The policy effectively extends institutional haircuts on deposits — large and small — for another six months.

Today marks an official holiday for the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated by Christians as the day when the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was pregnant with Christ. Public institutions and banks are closed.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Syria is set to deliver 75 tons of oxygen to Lebanon after the caretaker health minister made an “emergency” trip to Damascus. Following the visit, Hamad Hassan said Lebanon was running dangerously low on oxygen because supply ships from Turkey had been unable to unload due to stormy weather. A statement from oxygen provider SOAL...