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MORNING BRIEF

Hezbollah, Amal give cabinet go-ahead, internet suspensions, lira appreciates: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Here’s what happened over the weekend and what to expect today, Monday, Jan. 17

Hezbollah, Amal give cabinet go-ahead, internet suspensions, lira appreciates: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Lebanon's Cabinet of Ministers, seen here at a meeting in September 2021, may soon meet with a limited agenda after Hezbollah and Amal ministers indicated they would end their boycott of cabinet meetings. (Credit: Dalati & Nohra)

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Hezbollah and Amal on Saturday announced the end of their boycott of cabinet meetings, paving the way for the cabinet to reconvene — but only to address specific topics. In a joint statement, the two Shiite parties said they had given their approval for their ministers to attend cabinet sessions regarding the 2022 budget and economic recovery plans. The announcement came hours after Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil threatened to push for a parliamentary no-confidence vote on the cabinet. In a press statement Prime Minister Najib Mikati welcomed the announcement and said he would call for a cabinet meeting once the 2022 draft budget is submitted by the Finance Ministry. The cabinet has not met since Oct. 12 over disagreements about the fate of Beirut port blast investigating judge Tarek Bitar, who Amal and Hezbollah have accused of politicizing the investigation after he issued charges against two ex-ministers from Amal. The two parties said they would “continue to work to correct the judicial process.”

Internet access was suspended in much of Beirut over the weekend. Late Saturday evening, the exhaustion of diesel supplies cut off power to state telecommunications provider Ogero’s installations, causing Hamra, Ras Beirut, Dar al-Mreisseh, Mazraa, Moseitbeh, Minet al-Hosn and Zoqaq al-Blat to lose internet. Earlier Saturday, residents of Baysour, a town in the Aley area, called on authorities to take action to end an extended telecoms outage after the Telecommunications Ministry “failed to secure fuel” to operate a telecoms station servicing the area. Yesterday Ogero announced a suspension of service in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut and another suspension of service in Hamra. As of this morning, Ashrafieh was back online, but Ogero had not indicated whether service had been restored in Hamra. Parliament’s media and communications committee will hold a hearing on the telecommunications sector tomorrow.

Yesterday Lebanon’s Energy Ministry denied a report from an Israeli TV station that claimed the US had agreed a deal to supply Israeli gas to Lebanon, calling it “totally and completely untrue.” The ministry said that the gas deal between Lebanon and Egypt, which has been in the works since last August, “clearly and explicitly stipulates that the gas should come from Egypt,” a country that has its own natural gas reserves, but that also imports Israeli gas. The deal, which would bring gas from Egypt to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria, is close to being finalized, according to reports, but questions remain about parties’ liabilities under US sanctions law, which targets individuals and entities doing business with the Syrian government. On Friday, US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea assured Lebanon’s leadership that the contemplated deal is not subject to sanctions under US law, but her words were quickly contradicted by influential right-wing US Senator Ted Cruz, who said “Lebanon should absolutely worry about violating US sanctions. So should every other country involved. Congress isn’t going to allow Team Biden to enrich Iran’s proxies, especially not bloody tyrants like Assad. US sanctions will be enforced.”

The lira gained against the dollar over the weekend, reaching just below LL24,000 on the parallel market yesterday. This marks a massive swing from last Tuesday, when the lira reached yet another record low, trading at more than LL33,000 to the dollar. The rally is largely attributed to Friday’s central bank intervention in the exchange markets. The central bank injected tens of millions of dollars into the market in an effort to reduce exchange rate volatility and bolster the lira, BDL chief Riad Salameh said in a statement. Commercial banks were reportedly offering aggressive terms for their clients to exchange their lira for US dollars.

In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: “‘National suicide’: A breakdown of Lebanon's deepening dependence on diesel fuel for private generators”


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Hezbollah and Amal on Saturday announced the end of their boycott of cabinet meetings, paving the way for the cabinet to reconvene — but only to address specific topics. In a joint statement, the two Shiite parties said they had given their approval for their ministers to attend cabinet sessions regarding the 2022 budget and...