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MORNING BRIEF

Zahrani oil facility fire, third cabinet meeting, Nasrallah criticizes Bitar: What to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Tuesday, Oct. 12

Zahrani oil facility fire, third cabinet meeting, Nasrallah criticizes Bitar: What to know today

Firefighters attempt to put out a fire on Monday at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon. (Credit: Aziz Taher/Reuters)

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A fuel storage tank at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon went up in flames yesterday, and firefighters battled for several hours to contain the blaze. The Lebanese Army evacuated the area amid fears that the fire would cause an explosion, local media reported. Energy Minister Walid Fayad visited the site later in the day and said he had formed a committee to investigate the fire’s cause. Fayad said the blaze appeared to have started as the result of a “mishap” while gasoline was being transferred from one tank to another. No injuries were reported.

The Court of Cassation, Lebanon’s highest court, dismissed legal complaints filed against the Beirut port blast investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, by MPs and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, citing a lack of jurisdiction. Bitar has charged both legislators with criminal negligence in the case, but they have repeatedly refused to turn up for questioning. Under Lebanese law, the MPs do not have immunity in their capacity as lawmakers until Parliament returns to session on Oct. 19, and the judge has again summoned Khalil for questioning today,* while Zeaiter and fellow MP Nohad Machnouk have been called in for questioning on Wednesday. Two other complaints filed in the Court of Cassation, by Machnouk and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, are still pending, though the probe can continue while the court makes its decision. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi declined Bitar’s request to prosecute General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, a ministry spokesperson told L’Orient Today. The same request was also previously rejected by former Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi.

Lebanon’s cabinet is scheduled to hold its third meeting as a fully empowered government at the Baabda Presidential Palace today to discuss the ministers’ strategies for their portfolios. The meeting comes ahead of renewed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which were suspended last year amid disagreements about the total amount of losses in the financial system as well as the best path to reform. The new round of negotiations is expected to begin next month, a cabinet source told L’Orient Today. The meeting also comes amid discussions about a ration card program meant to assist vulnerable families. Registration for the program was supposed to be launched last month but has been delayed over questions about the program’s funding and logistics. Before the cabinet meeting, Aoun is scheduled to convene a meeting of the Higher Defense Council.

In a speech yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah criticized Bitar, weighed in on election law proposals and urged the Lebanese government to accept Iran’s offer to build power plants. Nasrallah accused Bitar of pursuing a political agenda and questioned why the judge had gone after former Prime Minister Hassan Diab but not his predecessors, President Michel Aoun or Aoun’s predecessor, Michel Sleiman. He also called on Lebanese government officials to seek an exemption from US sanctions so that it can import Iranian fuel — a third shipment of which is expected to begin arriving in Lebanon in the coming days — through official channels, and to accept Iran’s offer to build power plants in Lebanon. On the matter of the 2022 parliamentary elections, Nasrallah said his party supports a proposal to lower the voting age to 18 and is in favor of the diaspora having a vote, although he noted that it might harm his party due to problems Hezbollah faces in campaigning abroad in countries that have sanctioned the party.


*The Morning Brief originally misstated that Ali Hassan Khalil’s questioning was scheduled for tomorrow.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.A fuel storage tank at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon went up in flames yesterday, and firefighters battled for several hours to contain the blaze. The Lebanese Army evacuated the area amid fears that the fire would cause an explosion, local media reported. Energy Minister Walid Fayad visited the site later in the day...