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Lebanese authorities offered assistance and their sympathies to Syria and Turkey as the death toll of the region’s strongest earthquake in nearly a millennium rose to more than 4,000 people. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “deepest condolences” and “solidarity” to the governments and people of Turkey and Syria after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake erupted early Monday morning in southeastern Turkey, killing thousands of people in Turkey and Syria. At least four Lebanese citizens in the two countries were killed. Communication with Lebanese authorities in southern Turkey was cut due to power outages caused by the quake, caretaker Foreign Affairs minister Abdallah Bou Habib said. After an emergency meeting of the National Committee for Disaster Management yesterday morning, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced “ a rescue force from the army and Civil Defense volunteers to assist in the relief process,” adding that both caretaker Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh and caretaker Environment Minister Nasser Yassin had been assigned to coordinate relief efforts with Turkey and Syria. Yassin said a Lebanese team of approximately 30 rescue workers formed by “the army, the Civil Defense and others,” would be sent to Turkey yesterday afternoon to help with relief efforts. The army also announced on Twitter that it would send 20 military engineers to Turkey and 15 rescue workers to Syria. The Lebanese Civil Defense, meanwhile, issued safety guidelines to mitigate harm before, during and after an earthquake. Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi confirmed no deaths or injuries had occurred in Lebanon, which was shaken by a 4.9-magnitude earthquake, while calling on residents "to evacuate dilapidated buildings in order to avoid a new disaster." Conflicting reports attributed the collapse of a house in the town of Ain Ata, in the Rashaya al-Wadi district of the Bekaa Valley, to either the ongoing winter storm or the tremors felt overnight, while L’Orient Today’s correspondent in South Lebanon reported the evacuation of an old building by Civil Defense agents.
Lebanon’s caretaker cabinet met yesterday to approve funding for the public sector, education, health and wheat imports. Caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari said that LL1.5 billion was allotted for the public sector and an additional LL1.5 billion for the Education Ministry. The cabinet approved a measure allowing contractual teachers at the Lebanese University to receive monthly, rather than yearly, salaries. Caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi said the demands of “different teachers' groups still need to be discussed.” Public school teachers have been on strike since Jan. 10, stating last Saturday that they would not resume work until they receive improved compensation, healthcare benefits and contracts. The government also approved treasury advances covering social assistance for public hospital employees and continued funding to subsidize medicine for cancer and chronic diseases at the LL1,500 lira-to-dollar exchange rate — the former official exchange rate. The cabinet additionally approved $8 million to subsidize wheat imports. Other issues were postponed, including financing the municipal elections scheduled for next May, studying a draft decree to increase transport allowances in the public sector and paying Lebanon's annual contribution to the UN.
The lead investigator in the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut Port blast probe, Judge Tarek Bitar, indefinitely postponed hearings previously scheduled to start yesterday, pending the resolution of a dispute over his control of the case. Bitar told Reuters that no hearings would be held until the investigation can “proceed in a proper manner,” as his attempt to resume the probe — suspended for over a year due to unresolved complaints against the investigator — was met by severe backlash from Lebanon’s top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Ouiedat. Oueidat filed charges against Bitar, alleging an overstep of powers after the top prosecutor’s name figured among the officials newly named by the probe investigator last month for hearings, which were set to begin yesterday. Lebanon’s top prosecutor last month barred Bitar from proceeding with the investigation and ordered the release of detainees held in connection to the investigation. Families of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut explosion victims gathered on Saturday to mark two and a half years since the port blast that killed more than 200 people and injured another 6,500.
The Education Ministry announced “the closure of all public and private schools, high schools, institutes and higher education institutions on Tuesday and Wednesday” due to stormy weather and the deadly earthquake that devastated both Turkey and Syria and rocked Lebanon. The ministry’s statement announced that the closure will prevail “until the storm dissipates,” citing road conditions as a safety concern for students and faculty members. Torrential rain flooded roads across Lebanon yesterday and the day prior. Meanwhile, the General Confederation of Workers in Lebanon announced that it will postpone the strike it had planned for Wednesday until Feb. 16 “due to bad weather and citizens' sensitivity to the earthquake that struck Lebanon.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) announced they will start an open-ended strike today to protest a court ruling allowing the resumption of a lawsuit filed by depositors against Fransabank. Banks will continue functioning only through ATMs, the ABL said. A bank employee told L’Orient Today that a “dangerous precedent” could be set by the Court of Cassation’s decision to overturn an appeal suspending a seizure and execution order against Fransabank. The seizure order was issued following a lawsuit filed by two Fransabank former customers protesting the receipt of their funds in a bank check, which cannot be cashed without incurring a significant loss in value. The same day, Banque du Liban amended a circular issued in 2021, reducing restrictions on commercial banks’ use of checks. The ABL held a warning strike last march following a number of rulings against banks.
Unresolved issues postponed the implementation of a decision allowing supermarkets to display their prices in dollars. Caretaker Minister of Economy Amine Salam paused his decision to allow dollarized pricing — which, nonetheless, allows shoppers to pay in lira at the parallel market rate — after meeting with a delegation of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). CGTL head Bechara al-Asmar, who previously criticized the measure, reiterated considerations of "consumer protection." On Feb. 1, the official exchange rate devalued the lira by 90 percent, pegging it at LL15,000 to the dollar, while as of yesterday evening the parallel market rate stood around LL63,000.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read piece from yesterday: “Rumors spread on social media as people look for earthquake answers”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz
Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Lebanese authorities offered assistance and their sympathies to Syria and Turkey as the death toll of the region’s strongest earthquake in nearly a millennium rose to more than 4,000 people. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “deepest condolences” and “solidarity” to the governments and people of Turkey and Syria...