Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
1 / 2
Members of the Lebanese army secure the area near Federal bank in Hamra, Lebanon. (AN PHOTO/FIRAS HAIDAR)
Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
2 / 2
Crowds gathered outside the Federal Bank of Lebanon as the siege continued. (AN PHOTO/FIRAS HAIDAR)
Short Url
Updated 12 August 2022

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout
  • Civilians gather outside bank in support of gunman
  • Bank's lawyer claims efforts under way to reach a negotiated conclusion

Bystanders praised an armed man who held bank staff hostage for hours on Thursday in Beirut because he could not access funds frozen at the bank after the country’s economic collapse.

The hostage situation in a bank in Lebanon’s capital ended after authorities agreed to grant the gunman partial access to his frozen funds in exchange for releasing all the hostages.

The man — 42-year-old Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein — surrendered to security forces when the bank agreed to give him $30,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

Al-Sheikh Hussein earlier took more than eight employees hostage at Federal Bank in Hamra, Beirut.

He poured gasoline on the floor and pointed a shotgun at employees, demanding the bank let him withdraw $2,000 from his frozen accounts, in accordance with the central bank circulars to all banks in 2019.

Soldiers and officers from the Internal Security Forces surrounded the bank, which is situated on one of the busiest streets leading to the American University of Beirut and its medical center.

Negotiations began between the gunman and the bank’s management, first led by Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association.

They were later joined by the ISF’s information branch in the negotiations.

Caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi’s media office announced that he was following up the negotiations between the information branch and the Federal Bank from the ISF’s operations rooms.

Footage of Al-Sheikh Hussein first appeared on social media platforms, with the gunman shouting demands for his money to be released.

He told bank employees he wanted money to pay for medical bills for his father, who was receiving treatment in a hospital.

One of the bank employees filmed the scene, when the gunman could be seen carrying a gun.

The man entered the bank around 11 a.m. and asked the bank’s customers to leave while keeping the employees and the bank’s branch manager Hassan Halawi inside the building.

Two customers remained inside by accident, while one employee managed to evade capture as he was on duty outside the bank. The employee told Arab News that he was surprised to see the army and ISF surrounding the bank upon his return.

One of the customers taken hostage was released by the gunman, and handed to the Red Cross who were waiting for him, while the other insisted on staying inside “in solidarity with the armed man.”

Hasan Moghnieh, head of the depositors association, who led the negotiations with the armed depositor, told Arab News that he was negotiating with him from behind the metal bars of the bank’s closed gate.

Moghnieh said the armed man seemed calm and was assured by the security agencies that he would not be harmed.

“He is sitting in a chair, and I do not know how he dares to smoke a cigarette near the gasoline,” he added.

Moghnieh added that the gunman initially demanded to withdraw $2,000 to pay for his father’s medical bills at the Al-Zahraa hospitall, but when this was initially refused he demanded the entire $210,000 balance of his account.

On further conversation with the bank's manager, Moghnieh said the gunman was offered $10,000. However, the armed depositor rejected the offer, demanding his entire balance.

“I do not know the armed man in person. However, while negotiating with him, his threats seemed serious as he told me that he will throw the bank manager out of the window. He did not harm the detainees,” Moghnieh added.

Curious onlookers first gathered near the bank, then were joined by the concerned families of the bank employees.

They were later joined by Al-Sheikh Hussein’s family in Beirut, who began negotiating a settlement for him.

Moghnieh said: “The family wants a written undertaking that the ISF would not assault their son, and that they are ready to lower the demand and deduct a decent amount from the deposit.”

He said the bank first suggested $10,000, and when the armed man insisted on withdrawing his entire deposit, there was no more contact between the bank manager and the central management.

Other people, including customers of the bank chanting their support for the armed man: “Down with the rule of the banks,” one of the slogans of 2019’s mass protests.

Activist lawyer Haytham Azzo told Arab News: “We are following up on the events and we had warned that this would be one of the unjust banking procedures’ implications. As lawyers, we are ready to defend Al-Sheikh Hassan for free.”

Azzo said the banks had compromised national security, which was proven by “what we are seeing today.”

He added: “We called for people to be able to withdraw deposits when necessary, and the banks refused.”

The head of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees in Lebanon, George Al-Hajj, earlier said they wanted the incident to end peacefully.

“We will not resort to a strike because it would be useless.”

A statement from the Depositors Association held the bank owners, government, parliament and the central bank responsible for Thursday’s developments.

The association said  “the extortion of depositors and theft of their life savings will lead to further unpredictable responses.”

The association held the judicial authorities responsible for any violence on the streets or in the face of banks, due to its determination to protect the “unjust and aggressor against the oppressed depositor.”

The tense situation in Beirut occurred after Lebanese banks resumed work on Wednesday, following a strike last Monday, in protest against the judiciary’s treatment of banks, in light of the depositors’ proceedings against them.

In a general assembly on Wednesday, the Association of Banks in Lebanon called upon the establishment of a banking court, similar to the financial markets tribunal.

The association also demanded the acceleration of adopting legislation related to a recovery plan, noting demands from the International Monetary Fund.


Iran security forces clash with protesters over Amini’s death

Iran security forces clash with  protesters over Amini’s death
Updated 27 September 2022

Iran security forces clash with protesters over Amini’s death

Iran security forces clash with  protesters over Amini’s death
  • Twitter videos show protesters chanting ‘Death to the dictator,’ a reference to Khamenei

DUBAI: Iranian riot police and security forces clashed with demonstrators in dozens of cities on Tuesday, state media and social media said, amid continuing protests against the death of young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Amini, 22, from the Iranian Kurdish city of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

Her death has sparked the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019.

Despite a growing death toll and a fierce crackdown by authorities, videos posted on Twitter showed demonstrators calling for the fall of the clerical establishment while clashing with security forces in Tehran, Tabriz, Karaj, Qom, Yazd and many other Iranian cities.

State television said police clashed with what it called “rioters” in some cities and fired tear gas to disperse them.

Videos posted on social media from inside Iran showed protesters chanting, “Woman, Life, Liberty,” while women waved and burnt their veils.

Videos on Twitter showed protesters chanting “Death to the dictator,” a reference to Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the Kurdish cities of Sanandaj and Sardasht, riot police fired at protesters, videos on Twitter showed.

“I will kill those who killed my sister,” chants of protesters could be heard in one of the videos from Tehran, while activist Twitter account 1500tasvir said: “The streets have become battlefields.”

To make it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media, authorities have restricted internet access in several provinces, according to internet blockage observatory NetBlocks on Twitter and sources in Iran.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Iran’s clerical rulers to “fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

In a statement, Ravina Shamdasani said that reports indicated “hundreds have also been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists and at least 18 journalists.”

“Thousands have joined anti-government demonstrations throughout the country over the past 11 days. Security forces have responded at times with live ammunition,” the statement said.

Officials said 41 people, including members of the police and a pro-government militia, had died during the protests. But Iranian human rights groups have reported a higher toll.

The Iranian human rights group Hengaw said “18 were killed, 898 people were injured and over 1,000 Kurdish protesters have been arrested in the last ten days,” estimating the figures to be higher.

“Between Monday and Friday, more than 70 women have been arrested in Iran’s Kurdistan ... at least four of them are under age 18,” Hengaw said on Tuesday.

Iran’s judiciary has set up special courts to try “rioters,” according to state media.

Social media posts, along with some activists, have called for a nationwide strike. Several university teachers, celebrities and prominent soccer players have supported the protests against Amini’s death, according to statements published by them on social media.

Students in several universities have refused to participate in classes, staging protests against the widespread arrest of students and forceful encounters with security forces in universities.

Amini’s death has drawn widespread international condemnation while Iran has blamed “thugs” linked to “foreign enemies” for stirring up unrest. Tehran has accused the United States and some European countries of using the unrest to try to destabilize the Islamic Republic.


Jewish settlers storm Al-Aqsa compound for second day

Jewish settlers storm Al-Aqsa compound for second day
Updated 27 September 2022

Jewish settlers storm Al-Aqsa compound for second day

Jewish settlers storm Al-Aqsa compound for second day
  • A Palestinian security official told Arab News that Israeli police had deployed in large numbers throughout East Jerusalem and imposed restrictions on worshippers as part of a well-rehearsed tactic to prevent protests

RAMALLAH: Hundreds of settlers protected by Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem for a second day as tensions soared during the Jewish new year.

Dozens of Palestinian men and women remained inside Al-Aqsa to defend it as police prevented others under 40 from entering, deployed officers on horseback and used drones to monitor the grounds.

Despite the restrictions, dozens of Muslims were able to perform pre-dawn prayers shortly before the settlers moved in.

At least two Palestinians inside the compound were arrested for using religious chants to disrupt the settlers as they performed new year rituals in the compound’s courtyards. 

A Palestinian security official told Arab News that Israeli police had deployed in large numbers throughout East Jerusalem and imposed restrictions on worshippers as part of a well-rehearsed tactic to prevent protests.

“The number of Israeli police escorting the intrusive settlers is equal to the number of settlers, and this reflects the extent of the precautions to secure the incursions,” he said, adding that Palestinians “reject the desecration of Al-Aqsa by settlers.”

The huge police operation was also geared towards dissuading Palestinian from allowing their children to go to Al-Aqsa, he added, but warned that the situation could boil over if anyone was assaulted or killed by the police.

Israeli police had not sought coordination with the Palestinian security services, the official added.

Meanwhile, top Israeli police officer Maj. Gen. Yacov Shabtai toured the mosque, accompanied by several officers.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said turning the area around Al-Aqsa into a virtual military barracks and imposing restrictions on Muslim worshippers was “like reoccupying the holy city of Jerusalem and its old city by force.”

It warned of the consequences of the “gradual Judaization” of the mosque and its courtyards, saying such moves were a “blatant attack” on the beliefs of millions of Muslims and the “legal and legitimate right” of the Islamic Awqaf Department “to supervise the movement of worshippers.”

Meanwhile, Palestinians reacted with anger to President Mahmoud Abbas’s greetings to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on the Jewish new year.

Gantz asked Abbas during a call to ensure that the Palestinian security services made every effort to prevent an escalation in the West Bank during the new year holidays.

In reply, a Fatah member in Ramallah told Arab News: “Abbas didn’t surrender Jerusalem during his call with Gantz. It was a courtesy call, nothing more than that.”


Jordanian appeal court upholds convictions of 5 jailed, fined over Salt Hospital deaths

Jordanian appeal court upholds convictions of 5 jailed, fined over Salt Hospital deaths
Updated 27 September 2022

Jordanian appeal court upholds convictions of 5 jailed, fined over Salt Hospital deaths

Jordanian appeal court upholds convictions of 5 jailed, fined over Salt Hospital deaths
  • 10 COVID-19 patients died at hospital in 2021 after facility ran out of oxygen
  • Amman Appeal Court confirms acquittal of 8 other suspects

AMMAN: A Jordanian court on Tuesday rejected the appeals of five people convicted over a hospital oxygen outage that resulted in the deaths of 10 COVID-19 patients.
Amman Appeal Court upheld the three-year prison terms handed down to the five by a separate court last year, the Jordan News Agency (Petra) reported.
However, it upheld the acquittal of eight other suspects in connection with the incident at the Al-Hussein New Salt Hospital on March 13, 2021. Ten patients died after the facility ran out of oxygen, sparking public outrage leading to the resignation of Jordan’s health minister.
Petra said a panel of judges at the Amman Magistrates Court found four previous directors and an oxygen technician in the hospital accountable for causing the deaths.
Last year, the primary court convicted the former director of the hospital, his assistant for services, the head of the medical gases group, the director of medical devices, and an ex-oxygen technician, with causing the deaths and sentenced each of them to three years in jail with individual fines of 3,575 Jordanian dinars ($5,265).
Records said the court heard the testimonies of 87 witnesses.
At the time, hundreds of angry people gathered outside the hospital holding nightly protests that prompted the intervention of security forces. The victims’ relatives said the hospital had been suffering from a severe shortage of oxygen and medical staff.


Iran protest deaths higher than state media figures: Amnesty

Iran protest deaths higher than state media figures: Amnesty
Updated 27 September 2022

Iran protest deaths higher than state media figures: Amnesty

Iran protest deaths higher than state media figures: Amnesty
  • ‘The Iranian authorities have a pattern of distorting the truth to cover up their human rights violations,’ researcher tells Independent
  • More than 1,200 protesters have been arrested since Mahsa Amini’s death, with the nationwide demonstrations being Iran’s largest in almost three years

LONDON: Protester death figures in Iran are being distorted by the country’s regime to cover up the use of excessive force by security services, The Independent has reported.

The country has faced almost two weeks of protests nationwide — with Kurdish regions in the west witnessing the most violent clashes — in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Amnesty International researcher Mansoureh Mills told The Independent that the real figure of protesters who have been killed is higher than numbers reported by state TV, “given the horrific level of violence being perpetrated by the security forces.”

Mills added: “The Iranian authorities have a pattern of distorting the truth to cover up their human rights violations. Following the November 2019 protests, during which security forces killed hundreds of men, women and children, the authorities consistently denied any responsibility.

“They continued to cover up the real death toll of people killed during the November 2019 protests, and publicly praised security and intelligence forces for their role in the crackdown.”

Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, told The Independent: “The true numbers of people killed are likely to be higher than what state media are reporting but even official numbers are far too high for deaths during what are largely peaceful protests.

“The authorities must refrain from excessive use of force and investigate all deaths that have taken place during the protests.”

Mills said: “We have also received reports of women’s rights defenders being arrested while protesting for women’s rights over the past week. This is something that we are investigating.”

The Iranian regime resorts to “arbitrarily arresting journalists, political activists and human rights defenders to silence any form of public dissent or reporting and criticism of the human rights violations they are committing,” Mills added.

The regime must “urgently repeal laws and regulations that impose compulsory veiling on women and girls, perpetuate violence against them and strip them of their right to dignity and bodily autonomy.

“The policing of women’s bodies and lives in Iran is not restricted to their clothing choices. However, it is the most visible and one of the most egregious forms of the wider oppression of women and it stokes violence against them on a daily basis.”

More than 1,200 protesters have been arrested since Amini’s death, with the nationwide demonstrations being Iran’s largest in almost three years.


Yemeni forces drive Al-Qaeda from stronghold after bitter fighting

Yemeni forces drive Al-Qaeda from stronghold after bitter fighting
Updated 27 September 2022

Yemeni forces drive Al-Qaeda from stronghold after bitter fighting

Yemeni forces drive Al-Qaeda from stronghold after bitter fighting
  • Third phase of Eastern Arrows offensive has ended with STC forces capturing the Omaran valley in Abyan province
  • STC forces preparing to target Al-Qaeda’s final hiding places around the town of Al-Mahfad

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni forces say they have driven Al-Qaeda out of a key stronghold in the south of the country, after fierce fighting in which 32 soldiers and at least 24 militants were killed.

Mohammed Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council, which commands the military operations, told Arab News that the third phase of an offensive named “Eastern Arrows” had ended after their forces captured Omaran valley in Abyan province.

He said 32 soldiers were killed and 42 wounded by Al-Qaeda counterattacks, booby traps and roadside bombs.

The militants suffered 24 dead in combat or in the bombardment of Abyan’s high, rocky highlands.

Al-Naqeeb said STC forces had recovered landmines and improvised explosive devices from captured Al-Qaeda strongholds, and were next preparing to target the group’s final hiding places around the town of Al-Mahfad.

“Al-Qaeda has taken significant hits and lost one of its key strongholds in Omaran,” Al-Naqeeb said. “Our manpower and readiness make us capable of clearing entire southern provinces. It has been eight years since we began fighting terrorism. Our forces have gained expertise in combating Al-Qaeda.”

The Yemeni military and security services launched their offensive earlier this month to drive Al-Qaeda out of Abyan and neighboring Shabwa, from where the militants have trained and planned attacks against Yemeni cities.

Al-Qaeda also kept weapons and hostages in caverns in Omaran and adjacent valleys that connect the provinces with a third, Al-Bayda, according to Yemeni military sources.

The group has already been driven out of Al-Mousinah in Shabwa and Al-Wadhae, the rocky Khaber Al-Marakesha region, Lawder and Moudia.

Al-Naqeeb said some Al-Qaeda fighters escaped to Wadi Hadramout while others found refuge in Al-Bayda, which is controlled by the Houthis, and Markha in Shabwa.

Infighting between various anti-Houthi military factions has allowed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most deadly branch of the group in the world, to spread throughout southern Yemen over the past seven years.

The STC joined forces with several rival groups to combat the threat after agreeing a ceasefire two years ago.