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Lebanon: Two banks held up by customers for their own savings

One of the assailants said she was seeking to retrieve money to finance her sister's cancer treatment
People gather in front of a bank in Beirut, after a woman and her associates stormed it demanding access to her sick sister's deposits to allegedly pay for her hospital fees, on 14 September 2022 (AFP)

Two banks in Lebanon were held up by customers demanding their own savings on Wednesday in separate incidents, as the country spirals ever further into economic chaos.

In the first incident at a Beirut branch of Blom Bank, an apparently armed woman and her associates left the bank carrying more than $13,000 in cash from her own account, a source from a depositors' advocacy group said.

Sali Hafiz told local TV news channel Al Jadeed that the gun was a toy, and that she was seeking to retrieve money to finance her sister's cancer treatment.

Hafiz streamed a live video of the raid during which she could be heard yelling at employees to release a sum of money as entrances to the bank were sealed.

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Elsewhere on Wednesday, an armed man reportedly entered a bank in the city of Aley demanding the release of his trapped savings. A security source told Reuters that he was arrested by police after making off with $30,000 of his own money.

The incidents are just the latest examples of an increasingly frequent number of raids on banks in Lebanon by depositors desperate to retrieve trapped savings.

Hafiz received a wave of support on social media after the bank raid, which she said she had carried out to provide money for her sister's hospital bills.

“The banks robbed us... I got to the point of wanting to sell my kidney to treat my sister," she told Al Jadeed. "What’s the point of my life if I watch my sister dying in front of me?"

An AFP correspondent reported that gasoline was poured inside the bank during the incident, which lasted less than an hour, but was unable to confirm if it was real or not.

No arrests appear to have been made following the Beirut bank robbery.

Financial meltdown

Since the onset of the crisis in 2019, commercial banks have frozen depositors out of their savings and restricted access to their accounts as part of informal capital controls.

Lebanon bank drops charges against hostage taker
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Last month, an armed man held up a branch of the Federal Bank in west Beirut's Hamra Street, before surrendering to security forces after nearly seven hours of negotiations.

Bassam Sheikh Hussein, 42, took six people hostage and threatened to set the bank on fire if he was not given access to more than $200,000 stuck in his account.

During the incident, protesters gathered outside the bank in solidarity with Hussein, chanting "down with the rule of the banks".

Federal Bank later dropped charges against him and public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat announced Hussein’s release from prison without charges or future prosecution related to the case.

Lebanon is in the third year of a financial meltdown that has left an estimated 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line and which the World Bank has said is deliberate and may be one of the three worst economic crises of modern times.

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