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Lebanese woman holds up bank to access frozen savings as anger boils

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By David Gritten

BBC News

A woman identifying herself as Sally Hafez (centre) takes staff hostage at the Blom Bank branch in Beirut's Sodeco area on 14 September 2022Image source, EPA

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A woman identifying herself as Sally Hafez (centre) said in a video that she “came to claim my rights”

A woman held staff hostage at a bank in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, demanding they let her withdraw frozen savings to pay for her sister’s medical bills.

She left the bank after reportedly being given $13,000 (£11,240). It is not clear if she has been arrested.

Later, a man held up a bank in Aley in a similar attempt to get his savings.

They were the latest such incidents in weeks, as anger boils over among Lebanese at restrictions imposed because of an economic crisis.

Withdrawals of hard currency have been limited for most people since 2019, when the value of the Lebanese pound plummeted and inflation soared.

The country is now in the midst of one of the most severe and prolonged depressions the world has seen, with more than 80% of the population living in poverty and struggling to afford food and medicine.

Wednesday’s hostage situation at the Blom Bank branch in Beirut’s Sodeco area lasted an hour.

During the incident the woman live-streamed a video of herself demanding access to her family’s savings.

After another woman tells her that they have been given the funds and a man holds a bag of US dollar bills, she is seen saying: “I am Sally Hafez. I came today… to take the deposits of my sister, who is dying in hospital.”

“I did not come to kill anyone or to start a fire… I came to claim my rights.”

The woman and her accomplices reportedly escaped through a window at the back of the bank before security forces arrived.

“If we hadn’t done this, my daughter could have died,” she said.

A security source told Reuters news agency that the armed man who entered a branch of Bankmed in Aley was given $30,000 of his frozen savings before he surrendered to police.

Ibrahim Abdallah of Depositors’ Outcry, an advocacy group for Lebanese with frozen savings, said people were at breaking point.

“We have been asking the state for the last three years, we have demanded and protested in peaceful ways, and no-one has showed any interest in our cause,” he told Reuters.

Last month, a judge ordered the release of a man who took staff at another Beirut bank branch hostage for seven hours to secure $35,000 of his savings, which he said was needed to pay for his father’s hospital bills.

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