Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings

Update Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
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A woman is comforted at a Blom Bank branch after a group of depositors took hostages in Beirut, Lebanon on Sept. 14, 2022. (Reuters)
Update Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
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Men are seen through a shattered window of a Blom Bank branch in Beirut. (Reuters)
Update Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
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A woman is seen through a shattered window of a Blom Bank branch in Beirut. (Reuters)
Update Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
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Panicked bank employees stand next to a window that was broken by attackers to exit the bank, in Beirut, Lebanon on Sept. 14, 2022. (AP)
Update Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
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Updated 14 September 2022

Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings

Woman armed with toy gun forces Beirut bank to hand over $13,000 of her withheld savings
  • Sali Hafiz, who also poured gasoline over herself, said she needed the money to pay her seriously ill sister’s medical bills

BEIRUT: A woman entered a bank in Lebanon on Wednesday brandishing a gun, poured gasoline over herself and demanded that she be allowed to withdraw her savings. She left with $13,000. It later appeared that the gun was a toy.

It followed a similar incident earlier in the day in Aley. Access to funds held in Lebanese banks has been heavily restricted for some time as the country is in the midst of a long-running financial crisis.

Both incidents were greeted with widespread sympathy and support from the public, especially from other frustrated depositors.

Sali Hafiz, wearing black clothes and with her face uncovered, entered the Sodeco branch of BLOM bank in Beirut, across from the headquarters of the security forces, accompanied by activists from the Depositors’ Outcry Association and a lawyer.




A toy pistol that was used by depositors to attack a bank is seen thrown on the ground, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP)

She pulled out what appeared to be a gun, stood on a table and doused herself in gasoline from a bottle. She threatened to set herself and the bank on fire if she did not receive her and her sister’s joint deposits of about $20,000. She said her sister has brain cancer and they need the money to pay medical bills.

It appeared that Hafiz’s 23-year-old sister, Nancy, was in a car parked outside the bank with her husband, who was driving. She seemed to have lost her hair and her body appeared feeble. She could not walk and had difficulty speaking.

 

 

When Hafiz poured the gasoline over herself in the bank it sparked panic among employees and customers, and screams could be heard. As people clamored to get out they broke down a glass wall and fled.

Video footage filmed by the activists accompanying Hafiz show them demanding she receive her savings and telling staff to open cash boxes. One of the boxes contained $6,300 but Hafiz refused to accept this amount and demanded all of the money in her account. Eventually she was given $13,000 and left the bank without being stopped by security.

A small team of internal security officers arrived later and arrested some of the activists close to the bank where they were protesting against the banks and the governor of the central bank, Riad Salameh.




A bank employee gestures, as she stands next to a window broken by depositors to exit the bank, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP)

Later, in a TV interview, Hafiz said she is not a thief and had not harmed anyone. She said she had been forced to take action because her sister was dying.

“She needs an expensive injection daily for her treatment,” she said. “I went to the bank two days earlier to present the issue and asked the bank manager to give me the deposit to cover the cost of the treatment but he offered me just $200 a month, which was not enough for one injection per day.

“At home, we sold all our valuables to cover the cost of my sister’s treatment and I almost sold one of my kidneys to get some money. The deposit in the bank was saved by me and my sister from our work and it is held by the bank.”

She said that the money she took from the bank had been filmed by CCTV cameras so “we would not be accused of theft.”

Hafiz added: “I reassured the bank employees that I did not want to harm anyone but, rather, I wanted to save a human being. The weapon in my possession was one of my nephew’s toys.”

Her family lives near the branch where the incident took place. Her mother told Arab News: “My daughter, Nancy, almost committed suicide because she gave up on life. Sali could not stand seeing her sister suffer. We did not take money that was not ours. They refused to give us our money, so Sali resorted to what she did.”

Nancy described her sister as a “hero.” Other Lebanese said Hafiz “is strong and we are with her.”

In a separate incident on Wednesday, a young man called Rami Sharaf Al-Din entered a branch of Bankmed in the city of Aley. He reportedly threatened employees but, according to officials, members of the security services intervened and arrested him.

The incidents come a month after depositor Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein held staff at a bank in Beirut hostage to get his savings so that he could pay his father’s medical bills. In the light of such events, bank employees are said to be considering going on a strike.

BLOM Bank said that the incident at its branch on Wednesday was a “premeditated and planned operation with the intent to harm.”

George Al-Hajj, president of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees in Lebanon, told Arab News: “So far these incidents are happening without any bloodshed. However, the question is how is this dilemma going to be resolved?

“Going on a strike is not a solution but a loss for the country. Depositors have the right to receive their deposits. Bank employees are also depositors. Three years have passed and this dilemma is yet to be solved.

“They discuss the capital control law but do not approve it. They propose a plan to restructure banks. However, they do nothing. With every passing day, the crisis is worsening, losses increasing.”

He added that the federation is keen to “preserve the presence of bank employees or else they will lose their jobs. The break-ins happening are affecting all depositors and their money. It is important that the bank sector remains the safety valve of the Lebanese economy.”

Hassan Moghnieh, head of the Association of Depositors in Lebanon, told Arab News: “We do not encourage bank break-ins but failing to address this intensifying crisis, and dealing with people’s money with recklessness, might push many depositors to take this step as restitution, rather than theft or assault.”


Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
Updated 27 January 2023

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
  • A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons

THE HAGUE: An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog established there are “reasonable grounds to believe” Syria’s air force dropped two cylinders containing chlorine gas on the city of Douma in April 2018, killing 43 people.
A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons during his country’s grinding civil war.
“The use of chemical weapons in Douma – and anywhere – is unacceptable and a breach of international law,” OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said.
The organization said that “reasonable grounds to believe” is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
Syria, which joined the OPCW in 2013 under pressure from the international community after being blamed for another deadly chemical weapon attack, does not recognize the investigation team’s authority and has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.
Despite the latest findings, bringing perpetrators in Syria to justice remains a long way off. Syria’s ally Russia has, in the past, blocked efforts by the UN Security Council to order an International Criminal Court investigation in Syria.
“The world now knows the facts – it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond,” Arias, a veteran Spanish diplomat, said.
The report said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that during a government military offensive to recapture Douma, at least one Syrian air force Mi8/17 helicopter dropped two yellow cylinders on the city.
One of the cylinders hit the roof of a three-story residential building and ruptured, “rapidly released toxic gas, chlorine, in very high concentrations, which rapidly dispersed within the building killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more,” according to the report.
A second cylinder burst through the roof of another building into an apartment below and only partially ruptured, “mildly affecting those who first arrived at the scene,” the report added.
Syrian authorities refused the investigation team access to the sites of the chlorine attacks. The country had its OPCW voting rights suspended in 2021 as punishment for the repeated use of toxic gas, the first such sanction imposed on a member nation.
The painstaking investigation by the organization’s team, was set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, built on earlier findings by an OPCW fact-finding mission that chlorine was used as a weapon in Douma.
The investigators also interviewed dozens of witnesses and studied the blood and urine of survivors as well as samples of soil and building materials, according to the watchdog agency.
The investigators also carefully assessed and rejected alternative theories for what happened, including Syria’s claim that the attack was staged and that bodies of people killed elsewhere in Syria were taken to Douma to look like victims of a gas attack.
The report found that the two cylinders carrying chlorine were modified and filled at the Dumayr air base and the helicopter or helicopters that dropped them were under control of the Syrian military’s elite Tiger Force.
The OPCW team “considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: that the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack,” the organization said in a statement.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.


One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
Updated 27 January 2023

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
  • The attack led to the death of the head of the security team and injured others

DUBAI: A man armed with a Kalashnikov-style rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital Friday, killing the head of security at the diplomatic post and wounding two guards, authorities said.
Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, blamed the attack on “personal and family problems,” according to Iranian state television. However, the assault comes as tensions have been high for months between neighboring Azerbaijan and Iran.
Video purportedly from the scene of the attack showed an empty diplomatic police post just near the embassy, with one man apparently wounded in an SUV parked outside. Inside the embassy past a metal detector, paramedics stood over what appeared to be a lifeless body in a small office as blood pooled on the floor beneath.
A statement from Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that “an investigation is currently underway into this treacherous attack.” The ministry also described the attacker as destroying a guard post with assault rifle fire before being stopped by the wounded guards, whom authorities described as being in a “satisfactory” condition after being shot.
Iranian state TV quoted Rahimi as saying the gunman had entered the embassy with his two children during the attack. However, surveillance footage from inside the embassy released in Azerbaijan, which matched details of the other video of the aftermath and bore a timestamp matching the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry’s statement, showed the gunmen burst through the embassy’s doors alone.
Those inside tried to push through metal detector to take cover. The man opens fire with the rifle, its muzzle flashing, as he chases after the men into the small side office. Another man bursts from a side door and fights the gunman for the rifle as the footage ends.
Iranian prosecutor Mohammad Shahriari reportedly said that the gunman’s wife had disappeared in April after a visit to the embassy. The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency quoted Shahriari as saying the gunman believed his wife was still in the embassy at the time of the attack — even though it was some eight months later.
Azerbaijan borders Iran’s northwest. There have been tensions between the two countries as Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Iran in October launched a military exercise near the Azerbaijan border, flexing its martial might amid the nationwide protests rocking the Islamic Republic. Azerbaijan also maintains close ties to Israel, which Tehran views as its top regional enemy. The Islamic Republic and Israel are locked in an ongoing shadow war as Iran’s nuclear program rapidly enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Turkiye, which has close ties to Azerbaijan, condemned the attack, called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and for measures to be put in place to prevent similar attacks in the future. Turkiye has backed Azerbaijan against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Turkiye, which has been subjected to similar attacks in the past, deeply shares the pain of the Azerbaijani people,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. “Brotherly Azerbaijan is not alone. Our support to Azerbaijan will continue without interruption, as it always has.”


Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid
Updated 27 January 2023

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

JERUSALEM: Gaza militants fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes early Friday as tensions soared following an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
It was the deadliest single raid in the territory in over two decades. The flare-up in violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Palestinian militants fired five rockets at Israel, the military said. Three were intercepted, one fell in an open area and another fell short inside Gaza. Israel carried out a series of airstrikes at what it said were militant targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Thursday’s deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp was likely to reverberate on Friday as Palestinians gather for weekly Muslim prayers that are often followed by protests. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, had earlier threatened revenge for the raid.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The Palestinian Authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
The Israeli strikes early Friday targeted training sites for Palestinian militant groups, the military said. Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at a Hamas militant base before fighter jets struck it, causing four large explosions.
Air raid sirens went off in southern Israel as the initial two rockets were fired and then again after the airstrikes, when the militants fired the other three rockets.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin. President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people.” He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable.” But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties and to pursue the matter at international organizations was a mistake.
Thursday’s gunbattle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad claimed three others. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas’ secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz Al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
The Israeli military circulated aerial video it said was taken during the battle, showing what appeared to be Palestinians on rooftops hurling stones and firebombs on Israeli forces below. At least one Palestinian can be seen opening fire from a rooftop.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday’s raid. Israel’s paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Israel’s new national security minister, far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who seeks to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, posted a video of himself beaming triumphantly and congratulating security forces.
The raid left a trail of destruction in Jenin. A two-story building, apparently the operation’s target, was a charred wreck. The military said it entered the building to detonate explosives.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics struggled to reach the wounded during the fighting, while Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the military prevented emergency workers from evacuating them.
Both accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video at the hospital showed women carrying children into a corridor.
The military said forces closed roads to aid the operation, which may have complicated rescue efforts, and that tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from nearby clashes.
The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said Thursday marked the single bloodiest West Bank incursion since 2002, at the height of an intense wave of violence known as the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which left scars still visible in Jenin.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed and saddened” by the violence. Condemnations came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Turkiye, which recently reestablished full diplomatic ties with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries also condemned the Israeli raid.
The Islamic Jihad branch in Gaza has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Hamas, which seized power from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 2007, has fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes with Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B’Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. So far this year, not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim those territories for their hoped-for state.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that now house 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for over a decade.


France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee
Updated 27 January 2023

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Thursday, the French presidency said, signing a set of strategic agreements meant to boost Iraq’s economic cooperation with the European country.
In the meeting, France and Iraq signed a treaty that seeks to strengthen bilateral relations in anti-corruption, security, renewable energy and culture, the Elysee Palace said on Friday.


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.