BEIRUT — Banks across Lebanon will close their doors indefinitely following a series of "attacks" by depositors seeking to withdraw their own savings, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced Thursday night in a brief statement.
"In view of the attacks on banks, all bank branches throughout the country will close their doors and will be limited for the time being to providing their services through ATMs for individuals and through customer service for businesses," the ABL wrote.
The Association does not specify the duration of this new closure or whether it will actually begin on Friday morning.
According to a source within the ABL contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, some banks had already closed their doors earlier than expected on Thursday while others had put their ATMs out of service. The decision to close seems to have been taken by mid-day, before being officially announced late evening.
While banks are imposing drastic restrictions on their customers, limiting all withdrawals and transfers, against the backdrop of the multifaceted crisis in Lebanon, a phenomenon of particular hold-ups, in which depositors burst into banks to claim, with varying degrees of force, their own savings, has emerged. These operations, carried out by armed or unarmed clients and with varying degrees of success, had already forced banks to close for a week in mid-September. They then reopened, but with reinforced security measures and only received their clients in small batches, some only by appointment.
Yahya Badreddine withdraws $11,000
On Thursday evening, Yahia Badreddine, the armed depositor who stormed the BankMed branch in Nabatieh, in southern Lebanon, was evacuated from the bank premises after more than 11 hours of negotiations with the administration, reported the state-run National News Agency. The 55-year-old man, who owns a supermarket in the city was finally able to recover $11,000 "fresh" dollars and the rest of his savings in Lebanese lira, at the rate of LL8,000 for one dollar, reports our correspondent in the region. The total balance of his current account amounts to $40,000.
After recovering his money and handing it over to his son, who was not arrested, the depositor turned himself in to the Internal Security Forces. In a video sent by our correspondent, he can be seen walking out to the cheers of some people gathered in front of the bank. "Ya-hia! Ya-hia!" some chant. "Yahia, you're a hero!" shouts another.
The NNA reports that as soon as the BankMed robbery began, around 11:15 a.m. Thursday, the ISF dispatched teams directly to participate in negotiations with the bank and calm the situation. After hours without progress, the armed depositor accepted the entry of an ISF officer to intervene in the discussions. Then Colonel Toufik Nasrallah, head of the ISF command in Nabatieh, entered and evacuated Badreddine.
Operations of this kind sometimes carried out at gunpoint, have been on the rise lately in Lebanon, as depositors fail to withdraw their own savings that have been blocked since the economic crisis began in 2019. On Wednesday, several actions were taken by savers, including MP Cynthia Zarazir. A branch in Jbeil, Mount Lebanon, was targeted by gunfire from a disgruntled depositor, while in front of the Bank of Lebanon in Hamra, dozens of activists demonstrated against the circulars of the central bank that legitimize the illegal measures taken by banks. A collective even announced that depositors threatened to set fire to the homes of bank owners.
Reporting contributed by Mountasser Abdallah.