Desperation’s Gambit

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Two desperate Lebanese customers held up their banks this week to get access to their savings,  which had been blocked by the financial institutions amid an ongoing economic meltdown in the country, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, a woman, Sali Hafiz, and some associates briefly held hostage people in a branch of BLOM Bank in the capital Beirut in order to free her trapped savings. Hafiz took more than $13,000 from her savings, saying that the money was needed for her sister’s cancer treatment.

Before going into hiding, she told local media that she used a toy gun, adding that the hostage-taking was done out of desperation.

“I got to a point where I was going to sell my kidney so that my sister could receive treatment,” she said.

Elsewhere, an armed man entered the branch of another bank in the mountain city of Aley. He was able to retrieve some of his savings before turning himself in.

Since the start of the economic crisis three years ago, Lebanon’s banks have frozen most accounts, leaving a large portion of the population unable to pay for basic necessities.

Banks say they grant exceptions for humanitarian reasons such as hospital treatment but depositors say this seldom occurs.

The hostage-taking phenomena initially began last month, when a man held up a Beirut bank to withdraw funds to treat his ill father. He was detained but later released without being charged after the bank dropped its lawsuit.

One Lebanese banker warned that these hold-ups are setting a worrying precedent and are encouraging others to do the same.

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