BEIRUT — Four Lebanese Army soldiers were injured Monday evening after protesters outside the Justice Palace attacked them using sticks and rocks, the army said in a statement.
Protesters staged a sit-in Monday in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut to demand the release of Abdel Rahman Zakaria and Mohammad Rustom, two activists who aided depositor Sali Hafez when she held up a Blom Bank branch in Sodeco, Beirut, last week to recover her own blocked funds.
The army said the protesters also destroyed an army vehicle and a number of "civil cars," which "forced" the army arrest some "trouble makers" and to shoot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
Earlier today, dozens of demonstrators gathered at the Justice Palace chanting in support of the detained activists. Other footage on social media showed scuffles between army personnel and demonstrators. Around noon, some protesters blocked the main road near the Justice Palace.
Road blocked in Akkar
In Bireh, Akkar, other protesters blocked a road on Monday morning in support of the two activists, the state-run National News Agency reported. "The road will remain blocked until the activists are released," the protesters said. Activists and friends of Zakaria and Rustom also closed down public administrations in Halba on Monday afternoon, including the Serail, governorate offices, personal status departments, religious and civil court, and Liban Post offices, according to the National News Agency.
Demonstrators also closed down local water institutions and offices of telecommunications company Alfa, state-owned telecommunication company Ogero and Electricite Du Liban, the NNA reported.
Last Wednesday, Sali Hafez, armed with a toy gun, held up the Blom Bank branch to demand access to her own money, which she said she needed to pay for treatment for her sister who has cancer and "is dying in the hospital." Supported by activists and relatives at the bank, Hafez reportedly doused herself with gasoline and threatened to set herself on fire. After being given about $13,000 of her $20,000 deposit, and less than an hour after the holdup began, Hafez and her supporters managed to escape through a window before the security forces arrived. However, two activists were arrested.
Two days later, five bank holdups occurred across the country, organized by depositors wanting to recover their own funds amid Lebanon's ongoing financial crisis, which has resulted in the imposition of informal capital controls by commercial banks.
On Friday, the country's various security services drew up a "strict plan to impose law and order in the country, in order to protect depositors and citizens," according to caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi. However, no specific details of the plan have been released.
Following the holdups, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced a three-day strike starting Monday.
In the early afternoon, General Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation referred Abdel Rahman Zakaria and Mohammad Rustom to the General Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal of Beirut, Ziad Abi Haidar, who is expected shortly at his office to examine their case, according to the lawyer representing the two detained activists, Ali Abbas.
Abi Haidar will then be faced with the decision to release them, refer them under arrest to the investigating judge in Beirut, or transfer the case to the same judge after releasing them on bail, Abbas added. The investigating judge in Beirut will then proceed with an extended investigation of their case.
According to Abbas, an arrest warrant was issued for Abed Soubra, the depositor behind the hold-up of the Blom Bank in Tariq al-Jdideh. Soubra was detained after leaving the bank Friday night without being able to withdraw his money. He is also expected to be brought before the investigating judge in Beirut.
Jawad Slim, who was responsible for the hold-up at a Lebanon and Gulf Bank branch in Ramlet al-Baida in Beirut on Friday, is currently being interrogated by police at the Helou barracks in Mar Elias, according to his lawyer Ourouba Harakeh.
Slim's file will then be forwarded to Judge Ghassan Oueidate, who will either start the prosecutorial process or release him, Harakeh told L'Orient-Le Jour.
A senior judicial source told L'Orient-Le Jour that the same procedure should be adopted in the case of Rami Charafeddine, who withdrew $30,000 during his incursion into a branch of BankMed in Aley on Wednesday, the same day of the hold-up carried out by Sali Hafez.
The same source added that the cases of Mohammad Korkomaz and his son, who were arrested after withdrawing $19,200 from a Byblos Bank in Ghazieh, South Lebanon, last Friday, do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Beirut Prosecutor's Office but rather that of South Lebanon.
Lieutenant Karim Serhal, who is responsible of the hold-up at a Bank Med Chhim branch in the Chouf last Friday, during which he obtained $25,000 out of his $200,000 deposit, was arrested by the Lebanese Army and is currently being interrogated by the Military Court.
Mohammad al-Moussawi, who managed to obtain $20,000 from his account during a hold-up at the Lebanese-French Bank (BLF) in Beirut's Kafaat suburb last Friday, was not arrested. In response to a question if the non-arrest for Moussawi has to do with the fact that the hold-up took place in Beirut's southern suburb, a Hezbollah stronghold, an ISF source told L'Orient-Le Jour that a search warrant was issued against Moussawi.
Moussawi's lawyer, Ashraf Moussawi, told L'Orient-Le Jour that no security service has yet summoned his client, but that the latter would appear if summoned. However, the lawyer said he wonders how his client could appear in court "while the judiciary is on strike," adding that if an arrest took place "[the process] might get prolonged."
Additional reporting by Claude Assaf and Mohammad Yassin