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International aid to Lebanon suspended, parliamentary budget session, inflation plateaus: Everything you need to know to start your Wednesday

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Wednesday, Jan. 24.

International aid to Lebanon suspended, parliamentary budget session, inflation plateaus: Everything you need to know to start your Wednesday

Smoke rises above the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel's border with Gaza, near Kibbutz Kissufim, in southern Israel, January 22, 2024. (Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)

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Catch up on yesterday’s LIVE coverage of Day 109 of the Israel-Hamas war here.

Israeli attacks continued to target southern Lebanon, expanding further north of the border and striking some areas for the first time since Oct. 8. Jmaijmeh, Bint Jbeil district, came under Israeli fire for the first time causing some area residents to suffer minor injuries from debris, dust, and shattering glass. Hezbollah announced an attack on the Meron air base in northern Israel, which Israeli military Arabic-speaking spokesperson Avichay Adraee claimed caused “minor damage.” Such contradictory claims between Hezbollah and the Israeli military are common and have been directly addressed by party leader Hassan Nasrallah as deliberate downplaying by Israel. The party previously targeted the air base to retaliate against Israeli strikes on its senior commanders.

Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said a proposal to aid Lebanon’s poorest households will be sent to donor countries after the World Bank halted funding to the ministry’s Emergency Social Safety Net Project (ESSN). After meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Hajjar said urgent measures would begin next week to resolve the World Bank’s objection to Parliament’s modification of the loan agreement text. On Friday, the minister announced the interruption to funding from the World Bank as well as the reduction of donor funds for Lebanon’s most vulnerable households to a quarter of the previously promised amount. Hajjar added that within a few days, the new aid mechanism for vulnerable households will be announced.

Parliament is scheduled to convene today for its first session discussing the 2024 budget ahead of another meeting to vote on the text planned for tomorrow. Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee finished its review of the budget with several amendments, notably reducing levies placed by the government, and leveling various criticisms, chief among them the lack of “vision” and allotments for investment in the text. If the budget is passed tomorrow, it will be the first time in nearly 20 years that the process is completed within the constitutional deadlines.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) remained nearly unchanged between November and December according to the latest inflation data released by the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS). The increase in consumer prices slowed to 0.02 percent between the last two months of 2023. The average inflation rate for 2023, compiled from each month’s year-on-year change, stood at 222.42 percent, above the means from 2022 and 2021 at 171.2 percent and 154.8 percent, respectively. While the lira’s parallel market value has stabilized, salaries, especially in the public sector, have yet to catch up to the decimation of the national currency’s value and the resulting surge in product prices.

More than 300 people protested outside the Beirut Palace of Justice against the suspension of an arrest warrant for former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos issued as part of the investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast. The protesters also defended journalist Riad Tawk who was summoned after denouncing the suspension last week. Advocate General at the Court of Cassation Sabouh Sleiman last week suspended an arrest warrant issued in 2021 by port blast lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar after Fenianos skipped his hearing. Fenianos appealed the warrant citing unresolved complaints demanding Bitar’s deposition from the case. Bitar’s control of the case remains in legal limbo as he faces accusations of usurpation of power filed by Lebanon’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. Oueidat sued the key probe lead last January and instructed security forces to not enforce any of his decisions after Bitar attempted to re-launch the investigation after over a year of paralysis caused by judicial vacancies preventing rulings on complaints to depose him filed by suspects in the case.

A couple held captive for ransom after kidnappers lured them a week prior with the promise of informal travel abroad were freed yesterday near the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Lebanese Army announced their release without adding details or announcing any arrests, noting that investigations are underway. In April 2022, the Internal Security Forces warned that kidnappers posed on social media as “migration assistance agencies that promise to facilitate travel to a European country.” Two notable incidents last year included the kidnapping of a Saudi national that culminated in the captive’s swift release after a manhunt that severely injured a civilian in the crossfire of a highway shootout as well as the months-long search for the captors of two Syrian children taken from the Bekaa who were eventually rescued by the Lebanese Army.

At least 25,490 people have been killed by Israeli shelling on Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the latest figures from the enclave’s health ministry.

In Gaza, “the risk of famine increases each day,” warned a World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson, noting “catastrophic food insecurity levels.” The delivery of vital aid to the enclave’s inhabitants has been hindered by intensifying clashes and bombardments, international agencies say.

Israel continued to intensify its attacks on southern Gaza, encircling Khan Younis where it directly fired on the Nasser Hospital, the enclave’s health ministry said.

In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Hezbollah faces a war of spies

Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz

Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Catch up on yesterday’s LIVE coverage of Day 109 of the Israel-Hamas war here.Israeli attacks continued to target southern Lebanon, expanding further north of the border and striking some areas for the first time since Oct. 8. Jmaijmeh, Bint Jbeil district, came under Israeli fire for the first time causing some area residents to...