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Blast probe halted again, Mikati asks Kurdahi to ‘follow his conscience,’ Jordan deal: All you need to know

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, Nov. 5, and this weekend

Blast probe halted again, Mikati asks Kurdahi to ‘follow his conscience,’ Jordan deal: All you need to know

The investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion is once again on hold. (Credit: AFP)

The probe into the Beirut port explosion by Judge Tarek Bitar has been halted once again after another political figure targeted by the investigation filed a lawsuit. Former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, who Bitar had summoned for questioning, filed a complaint before the Court of Appeals seeking to remove the judge. After being formally notified of the complaint, Bitar has been forced to put his investigation on hold, as has happened multiple times before due to lawsuits brought by officials he had implicated in the August 2020 blast. According to judicial sources who spoke to AFP, Bitar has a total of 15 cases pending against him. Meanwhile, dozens of relatives of those killed in the Beirut port explosion 15 months ago gathered in front of the port yesterday to commemorate their loved ones, with some holding posters in support of Bitar. In parallel, Ibrahim Hoteit, the former spokesperson for the victims’ families, who has split off from the group after he changed his stance and called for Bitar to resign, gathered with a small group of individuals nearby.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked Information Minister George Kurdahi to ‘follow his conscience” and take the necessary steps to restore relations with Saudi Arabia amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis. During a speech yesterday, Mikati stopped short of calling on Kurdahi to resign over the diplomatic debacle, but urged Kurdahi to “prioritize his conscience and national interest over populist slogans,” and to take into account the interests of Lebanese expats working in the Gulf. The prime minister also urged cabinet members to resume meetings in order to “overcome the days wasted for nothing” amid a government standstill that began last month, on Oct. 12,  amid a rift between different political blocs over Bitar’s role as head of the port investigation. Mikati said that the government “should never step outside its role,” especially when it comes to the “judiciary’s business.”

Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said that while he is ready to begin registration for the delayed ration card program, the program still has no funding source. International funding for the government’s ration card program is conditional on getting a separate and also long-delayed World Bank-funded cash assistance program up and running. That program has been stalled for months, largely because of changes the Parliament and previous government made to the loan agreement without the Bank’s approval. Hajjar asked for Parliament to meet and take up the amendments as soon as possible. The ration card program, which was supposed to launch in September, will allocate $556 million to supporting low-income families as subsidies on fuel and other essential items come to an end amid the economic crisis that has pushed some 78 percent of Lebanese into poverty.

Agriculture Minister Abbas Haj Hassan said he and his Jordanian counterpart have reached an agreement that could allow Lebanon to export more produce to Jordan. Speaking to L’Orient Today, Hassan said that he has reached an agreement with Jordan’s Ministry of Agriculture to lift the country’s yearly restriction on agricultural imports from Lebanon. The agreement will also allow Lebanon to pay for produce that it imports from Jordan in kind with its own agricultural products rather than in cash. While the minister declined to draw a relationship between the two matters, increased Jordanian imports could partially offset Saudi Arabia’s ban on Lebanese agricultural products, which has been in effect since April. Lebanese farmers have told L'Orient Today that they were left with surplus output as a result of the Saudi ban. 

The probe into the Beirut port explosion by Judge Tarek Bitar has been halted once again after another political figure targeted by the investigation filed a lawsuit. Former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, who Bitar had summoned for questioning, filed a complaint before the Court of Appeals seeking to remove the judge. After being formally notified of the complaint, Bitar has been forced...