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Morning Brief

Wildfires in the north, Mikati to Baabda, immunity lifted in port case: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Thursday, July 29

Wildfires in the north, Mikati to Baabda, immunity lifted in port case: Everything you need to know today

Wildfires broke out in northern Akkar on Wednesday. (Credit: Lebanese Red Cross Twitter)

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Wildfires broke out in northern Lebanon, claiming the life of a 15-year-old boy who was helping to fight them and sending residents fleeing. The army, Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense were mobilized in response to blazes in the areas of Qobeiyat, Andaqit and Kfartoun. Amid reports that the Civil Defense was not properly equipped to fight the fire, the authorities appealed to Cyprus for assistance. The head of the LRC told VDL radio (100.3–100.5) this morning that the fire was still burning near Qobeiyat and that eight people had been taken to the hospital and 41 had been transferred from their homes to safe areas or otherwise rescued, adding that none of these cases involved serious injuries. The Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute had warned of a “very high” potential of forest fires earlier this month due to the current heat wave.

Najib Mikati visited the Presidential Palace in Baabda for the second time yesterday to discuss the cabinet’s formation. The new premier-designate said he gave President Michel Aoun his suggestions regarding the government’s formation, telling reporters after a meeting between the two that he “found acceptance” from Aoun’s side and “also took his comments into consideration.” The new premier-designate is expected to return to Baabda for further talks this afternoon.

The Beirut Bar Association has lifted lawyers’ immunity for MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, although they still have parliamentary immunity. In early July, the lead investigator of the port explosion, Tarek Bitar, had requested that immunity be lifted from Khalil and Zeaiter, who as lawyers cannot be prosecuted unless the Bar association allows it. However, as sitting members of Parliament, they are still protected by a separate immunity law. On Tuesday, Saad Hariri, who failed to form a government as premier-designate but still heads the Future Movement, proposed suspending “all legal articles” granting immunity to high-ranking government officials, a move endorsed yesterday by Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli. The politicians’ pronouncements come days before the blast’s first anniversary, and follow months of efforts by members of the political class to use bureaucratic and parliamentary maneuvers to obstruct the judicial investigation.

The heads of Lebanon’s National Social Security Fund and workers’ confederation warned that the social security fund faces a fiscal crisis over drug costs. In mid-July, the Health Ministry ended subsidies on more than 1,500 drug products, saying the subsidy was no longer affordable for the central bank and causing their prices to rise. While the move has done little to put a stop to widespread drug shortages, the NSSF’s director, Mohammad Karaki, said the costs to social security when customers use insurance to purchase these drugs have increased 200–600 percent, and the fund needs additional funding to cover the rising costs. Without support, said Bechara al-Asmar, the president of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, the fund risks bankruptcy.

Yesterday’s deadline passed for the government to submit documents to the World Bank regarding a $246 million program for needy residents passed with no word from either party. The Finance Ministry declined to comment when asked by L’Orient Today whether it had met the deadline; the World Bank did not respond to a request for comment. In the balance hangs a loan program that would provide direct cash assistance to roughly 150,000 families as Lebanon suffers its worst crisis since the 1975–90 Civil War. The program could have launched as early as May, but controversial amendments and bureaucratic faux pas have delayed implementation.

MP Moustafa El Husseini has passed away after battling chronic illness. The deputy, who was also the brother of former Parliament Speaker Hussein El Husseini, was elected in 2018 in Jbeil and caucused with the Marada Movement. His departure leaves 11 of Parliament’s 128 seats empty; constitutionally mandated by-elections to fill the other 10 seats have not been held.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email. Click here to sign up.Wildfires broke out in northern Lebanon, claiming the life of a 15-year-old boy who was helping to fight them and sending residents fleeing. The army, Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense were mobilized in response to blazes in the areas of Qobeiyat, Andaqit and Kfartoun. Amid reports that the Civil Defense was not properly equipped...