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Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who had been granted a part of his deposit at Federal Bank after holding Hamra branch employees and citizens hostage last week, announced during a press conference yesterday his intent to negotiate the release of the remainder of his funds. Hussein said that the hold-up was in retaliation to an alleged insult from the bank manager, after the depositor had been denied a Banque du Liban Circular No. 158-mandated withdrawal of $400 for several months. Hussein’s actions were endorsed by several groups, which rallied to his support outside the bank last Thursday and held protests demanding his release from custody after he had turned himself in. Attorney Rami Ollaik confirmed to L’Orient Today that Hussein, his client, was released on Tuesday after the bank dropped its charges against him. The hostage taker’s funds, like most other citizens’ funds, have been blocked at banks following the imposition of informal capital control measures at the onset of the economic crisis in 2019.
“Work is underway to boost funding and to ensure that there is no [drug] misuse, waste or corruption,” caretaker Health Minister Firas Abiad said during a radio interview, the state-run National News Agency reported. Abiad clarified that there had been “no US government aid” involved in People to People Aid, a US organization that partnered with Direct Relief and MAP International to donate more than $1.4 million worth of cancer medication this week to the Cancer Support Fund – an American University of Beirut Medical Center-affiliated NGO that assists adult cancer patients throughout Lebanon. Chronic disease medications, such as those for cancer and kidney dialysis, are still partially subsidized by Banque du Liban, but they continue to be prohibitively expensive and oftentimes in short supply due to the financial crisis, with many of those who are financially able seeking cancer medications from abroad. Abiad said there were difficulties in “funding” cancer drugs and kidney dialysis procedures; pharmacists and medicine importers have spoken out over credit lines to cover drug costs being “basically frozen” amid the central bank’s inability to pay out the subsidies.
Caretaker Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar stated the ministerial committee concerned with Syrian refugees’ support for “any step that falls into the category of refugee return,” despite disagreements on the current repatriation plan proposal. Caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine last month announced a plan aiming to return “15,000 displaced people per month,” prompting criticism from UNHCR, which called on Lebanon “to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return and the principle of non-refoulement.” Syrian refugees in Lebanon have faced intensified discriminatory practices as some authorities engage in anti-refugee rhetoric. Many refugees in Lebanon live in informal tent settlements, including refugee camps where living and security conditions are deplorable. A fire was reported yesterday in a Syrian refugee camp located in the Lebanese village of Arsal, in the Bekaa, L’Orient-Le Jour's correspondent in the North reported.
The Finance and Budget Ministerial Committee chair MP Ibrahim Kanaan said yesterday that, in order to proceed with the 2022 budget proposal, the committee expects “the numbers of [fiscal] incomes and expenses” from the government and finance minister within a week. Committee member MP Ibrahim Mneimneh (“Forces of Change”/Beirut II) told L’Orient Today that while finalizing the budget there was “confusion” regarding raising the customs taxes. An inter-ministerial meeting presided by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Tuesday reportedly approved raising custom taxes to LL20,000 against the dollar. The Finance and Budget Committee has yet to approve the 2022 budget after months of discussions since its approval by the Cabinet in February and subsequent submission to Parliament. The 2022 budget is among the demands made by the International Monetary Fund, which stipulated a list of reforms Lebanese authorities must implement in order to unlock an aid package considered vital to the country’s recovery from its economic crisis.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Burned alive, allegedly by her husband, Hanaa Khodr succumbed to her injuries.”