BEIRUT - Two seemingly armed and desperate Lebanese depositors held up banks on Wednesday to force access to their own money, which has been blocked during a national financial meltdown. One woman with a gun and some associates briefly held hostages at a branch of BLOM Bank in the capital Beirut, before leaving with more than $13,000 in cash from her account, a source from a depositors’ advocacy group said.
Shortly afterwards, in the mountain city of Aley, an armed man entered a Bankmed branch and retrieved some of his trapped savings, before handing himself into authorities. Lebanon’s banks have locked most depositors out of their savings since an economic crisis took hold three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basics.
In a phenomenon illustrating the plight, Wednesday’s holdups came after a man last month held up another Beirut bank to withdraw funds to treat his sick father. Before going into hiding, the woman, Sali Hafiz, told local news channel Al Jadeed TV the gun was a toy and that she needed the money for her sister’s cancer treatment.
“I have nothing more to lose, I got to the end of the road,” she said, saying a visit to the bank manager two days previously had not provided an adequate solution. BLOM confirmed the customer had been in to seek her money for her sister’s treatment, saying she was offered total cooperation and requested to provide documentation.
“All we have is this money in the bank. My daughter was forced to take this money – it’s her right, it’s in her account – to treat her sister,” her mother Hiam Hafiz told local TV. Authorities did not immediately comment on the incidents.
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