Lebanese banks again blocked by customers as financial crisis deepens

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A string of Lebanese banks were raided by customers on Friday as the growing number of hold-ups continues amid the country’s financial crisis.

Since Wednesday, at least seven banks have been blocked after most financial institutions blocked customers from withdrawing their savings from their accounts, preventing people from paying for basic items.

This has sparked a wave of account holders seeking to access their money by force and often wielding weapons in an attempt to obtain their funds as Lebanon continues to struggle in the third year of a severe economic depression.

On Friday morning, a gunman identified as Abed Soubra entered BLOM bank in Beirut’s Tariq Jdideh neighborhood to demand his deposit, the bank told Reuters.

He was still locked in the branch hours later and said over the phone that he had turned in his gun to security forces and just wanted his money. “I’ll be here three, four, five days – I won’t move until I get my bail,” he said.

Mr. Soubra said he had refused an offer from the bank to take part of his $300,000 in savings with a significant reduction and in Lebanese currency.

“I deposited my money in dollars – I want them back in dollars,” he said.

Mr Soubra was cheered on by large crowds who gathered outside, including Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who carried out the first-ever heist in August to get his own deposits from his bank, which has dropped the charges against him.

“We’re going to continue to see that happen as long as people have money in it. What do you want them to do? They have no other option,” said Mr. Hussein, who got about $30,000 of his savings of $200,000.

Security forces deployed to scene after bank protest

(Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In another incident, a man was able to recover some of his funds from the Ghazieh branch of Byblos bank before being arrested, the source said, adding that the gun in his possession was considered a toy .

Byblos Bank could not immediately be reached for comment.

Elsewhere, a man armed with a pellet gun entered a branch of the LGB Bank in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Bayda district, seeking to withdraw some $50,000 in savings, a bank employee said.

Mohammad al-Moussawi threatened Banque Libano-Française (BLF) with a fake gun and managed to withdraw $20,000 in cash from its account, he said.

“This banking system is cheating us and it’s worth my shoe,” he said, telling Reuters he would go into hiding.

Sali Hafez looks at her phone after breaking into a BLOM Bank branch brandishing what she later said was a toy gun on Wednesday

(AP)

BLF Bank said the incident “took five minutes” and no employees were injured.

The fifth incident on Friday afternoon saw a man fire shots inside a Bankmed branch as he sought to access his own savings, an industry source told Reuters.

The source said the man was a member of the Lebanese security forces and there were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Lebanese Banking Association announced a three-day shutdown next week due to growing security concerns and called on the government to pass the necessary laws to deal with the crisis.

Authorities have been slow to pass reforms that would give them access to $3bn (£2.6bn) from the International Monetary Fund to ease the crisis.

Withdrawals in Lebanese pounds are worth less and less, as the lira has lost more than 95% of its value since 2019.

It comes just days after a woman wielding a toy gun burst into a Beirut bank on Wednesday, taking $13,000 of her trapped savings.

Additional Reuters reports

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