BEIRUT — The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced Thursday that bank branches will be forced to "take preventive security measures" in the wake of two coordinated hostage-taking incidents in Lebanon on Wednesday
The first incident was in a branch of Blom Bank in Sodeco in Beirut, and the second in a bank in Aley, southeast of the capital. In both cases, the hostage-takers were customers of they banks held-up. They held-up their banks in an attempt to withdraw funds from their own accounts, which have been blocked since the economic crisis started in October 2019.
In a statement, the Board of Directors of the ABL said the banks are "forced to take preventive security measures in view of the dangers to which employees and customers are exposed." It apologized for "any inconvenience or delay that will result from such measures.
According to the association, the new security measures will be left to the discretion of each banking institution.
Earlier in the day, L'Orient Today's correspondent in South Lebanon reported that the Blom Bank branch of Saida only allowed customers to enter the bank one-by-one, with a guard posted at the entrance.
The ABL, which "has ensured that banks handle positively particular humanitarian cases," further stated that it "categorically condemns any assault on the dignity of its employees or customers and refuses to be taken hostage." The statement added that "bankers are at the service of all depositors in these difficult times, equally."
Sali Hafez, the Blom Bank hostage-taker, said Wednesday that she wanted to recover her own funds to pay for the treatment of her sister, who is suffering from cancer.
The ABL board of directors responded by saying "the political, security and judicial bodies to assume their responsibilities in the face of the deteriorating security situation.," expressing their hope that those who undermine security will be prosecuted and tried.
The Federation of Bank Employees' Unions in Lebanon previously criticized the fact that "some depositors endanger the safety of colleagues in the branches and undermine their dignity." It also called on authorities to take immediate security measures to protect employees, adding that "no casualties have been reported so far, but who knows what the future holds."
During the Sodeco hostage situation on Wednesday, the Association of Depositors in Lebanon announced that a similar incident was underway at a BankMed branch in Aley. Lawyer and activist Rami Ollaik confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour that these actions were "coordinated" by associations defending the rights of depositors.
Demonstrations on the ground
In reaction to these incidents, demonstrators blocked one of the main roads in Halba, northern Lebanon, on Thursday to protest the arrest of several Akkar activists who participated in the Beirut hold-up, L'Orient Today's correspondent in North Lebanon reported.
On Wednesday evening, activists demonstrated outside the residence of Blom Bank CEO Saad Azhari in Beirut, after the bank refused to drop the charges against the two activists who accompanied the depositor Sali Hafez.
Unidentified armed persons reportedly fired live ammunition at the demonstrators, according to our correspondant. In a statement to L'Orient-Le Jour, the Blom Bank press office said that Saad Azhari has no bodyguards — whether armed or unarmed — in response to accusations that the perpetrators of the shooting were working for the bank's CEO.
Reporting contributed by Muntasser Abdallah, Michel Hallak and Mohamad Yassine.
BEIRUT — The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced Thursday that bank branches will be forced to "take preventive security measures" in the wake of two coordinated hostage-taking incidents in Lebanon on Wednesday The first incident was in a branch of Blom Bank in Sodeco in Beirut, and the second in a bank in Aley, southeast of the capital. In both cases, the hostage-takers were...