Banks in Lebanon will remain shut indefinitely after the country’s banking association said a spate of bank heists had made opening branches too dangerous. The banking association’s statement was issued on Wednesday evening, before banks were scheduled to reopen on Thursday after a three-day shutdown.
At least eight banks were held up by depositors last week trying to get access to their own savings.
“It is still not clear what indefinite means,” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reported from Beirut. “Banks are closed but, to a certain extent, they are maintaining services. For example, depositors are able to access money from ATM machines but only in the local currency.” Strict measures have been put in place since 2019 preventing depositors from accessing most of their dollar savings. The rules have led to anger, with depositors “desperate for their savings because the economy has all but collapsed”, according to Khodr.
On September 14, a Lebanese woman, Sali Hafiz, forced staff at a BLOM Bank branch in Beirut to give her thousands of dollars from her own account by waving a replica gun in order to fund her sister’s cancer treatment at a hospital.
Hafiz has been lauded as a hero by many Lebanese and told Al Jazeera that her actions were a response to the bank “stealing” her money.
On the same day Hafiz entered BLOM bank, an armed man entered a branch of BankMed in Lebanon’s city of Aley, attempting to retrieve his savings. The man obtained some of the money before handing himself over to authorities.
“Many people are not finding any jobs and they really blame the banks for imposing these controls on the citizens,” Al Jazeera’s Khodr said.
She added that people are worried about access to their money with public and private sector salaries due to be paid next week.
“Will there be enough cash in those ATM machines when that happens or will people still not be able to access dollars?” The Lebanese economy has been struggling since late 2019 in an economic meltdown described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has witnessed since the 1850s.