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.”


Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown

Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown
Updated 14 sec ago

Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown

Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown
  • The Islamic republic has been gripped by protests that erupted over Amini’s death on September 16
PARIS: Iranian security forces have killed at least 378 people — including 47 children — in a crackdown on protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, a rights group said in an updated toll Saturday.
The Islamic republic has been gripped by protests that erupted over Amini’s death on September 16, three days after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
The protests were fanned by fury over the dress rules for women, but have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution.
“At least 378 protesters, including 47 children, have been killed by the oppressive forces since September 16,” Iran Human Rights director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.
The figure represents an increase of 36 since the Norway-based group issued its previous toll on Wednesday.
It includes at least 123 people killed in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, 40 in both Kurdistan and Tehran provinces and 39 in West Azerbaijan province.
Iran Human Rights warned that the regime had been mounting a “campaign of spreading lies” ahead of a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council next week.
“They have two goals by attributing the killing of the protesters to terrorist groups like Daesh,” Amiry-Moghaddam said, referring to the Daesh group.
“They want to use it as an excuse for more widespread use of live ammunition,” he said.
“And they also want to influence countries in the UN Human Rights Council who will gather on November 24 in a special session considering establishing an independent investigation and accountability mechanism” over the crackdown in Iran, he added.

Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: judiciary

Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: judiciary
Updated 14 sec ago

Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: judiciary

Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: judiciary
TEHRAN: Three Iranian teenagers are among 15 people who could face the death penalty over the killing of a pro-government paramilitary force member, the judiciary said Wednesday.
Iran has been rocked by street violence since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
A group of 15 people was charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of the Basij paramilitary force, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
Prosecutors allege Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman.
But on Wednesday, as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged with “corruption on earth” — a sharia-related charge that is a capital crime in the Islamic republic.
“Three of the accused are aged 17” and their cases would be dealt with by a juvenile court, the website added.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of security force members, and thousands have been arrested, among them around 40 foreigners.
More than 2,000 people have been charged with offenses, according to the authorities.
At least six people have so far been sentenced to death, their fates now depending on the supreme court which rules on appeals.

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates
Updated 30 November 2022

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates
  • The announcement was made ahead of the 51st National Day

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the release of 1,530 prisoners, ahead of UAE's 51st National Day, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The pardoned prisoners had been sentenced to jail terms for a variety of offenses.

Sheikh Mohamed also pledged to settle the financial obligations of the released prisoners.

“The President’s pardon gives the released prisoners an opportunity to rethink their future and positively contribute to the service of their families and communities in order to lead successful social and professional lives,” the statement added.


Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone
Updated 30 November 2022

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

CAIRO: The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta Stone.
The inscriptions on the black granite slab became the seminal breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was taken from Egypt by forces of the British empire in 1801.
Now, as Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, thousands of Egyptians are demanding the stone’s return.
‘’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions calling for the stone’s return.
The acquisition of the Rosetta Stone was tied up in the imperial battles between Britain and France. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s military occupation of Egypt, French scientists uncovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known by the French as Rosetta. When British forces defeated the French in Egypt, the stone and over a dozen other antiquities were handed over to the British under the terms of an 1801 surrender deal between the generals of the two sides.
It has remained in the British Museum since.
Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, says the stone was seized illegally and constitutes a “spoil of war.” The claim is echoed in a near identical petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister for antiquities affairs, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Hawass argues that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.
The British Museum refutes this. In a statement, the Museum said the 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt. It refers to an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French. The Ottoman sultan in Istanbul was nominally the ruler of Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.
The Museum also said Egypt’s government has not submitted a request for its return. It added that there are 28 known copies of the same engraved decree and 21 of them remain in Egypt.
The contention over the original stone copy stems from its unrivaled significance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century B.C., the slab contains three translations of a decree relating to a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first inscription is in classic hieroglyphics, the next is in a simplified hieroglyphic script known as Demotic, and the third is in Ancient Greek.
Through knowledge of the latter, academics were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols, with French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion eventually cracking the language in 1822.
‘‘Scholars from the previous 18th century had been longing to find a bilingual text written in a known language,’’ said Ilona Regulski, the head of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum. Regulski is the lead curator of the museum’s winter exhibition, “Hieroglyphs Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Champollion’s breakthrough.
The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics housed in the British Museum. A large percentage were obtained during Britain’s colonial rule over the region from 1883 to 1953.
It has grown increasingly common for museums and collectors to return artifacts to their country of origin, with new instances reported nearly monthly. Often, it’s the result of a court ruling, while some cases are voluntary, symbolizing an act of atonement for historical wrongs.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September after a US investigation concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria following a request from its government.
Nicholas Donnell, a Boston-based attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, said no common international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.
‘‘Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta Stone is a hard legal battle to win,’’ said Donnell.
The British Museum has acknowledged that several repatriation requests have been made to it from various countries for artifacts, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any details on their status or number. It also did not confirm whether it has ever repatriated an artifact from its collection.
For Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and CEO of the online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.
‘‘It’s about money, maintaining relevance and a fear that in returning certain items people will stop coming,’’ he said.
Western museums have long pointed to superior facilities and larger crowd draws to justify their holding of world treasures. Amid turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt saw an uptick in artifact smuggling, which cost the country an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the US-based Antiquities Coalition. In 2015, it was discovered that cleaners at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum had damaged the burial mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by attempting to re-attach the beard with super glue.
But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully reclaimed thousands of internationally smuggled artifacts and plans to open a newly built, state-of-the-art museum where tens of thousands of objects can be housed. The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under construction for well over a decade and there have been repeated delays to its opening.
Egypt’s plethora of ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel at the Sudanese border, are the magnet for a tourism industry that drew in $13 billion in 2021.
For Hanna, Egyptians’ right to access their own history should remain the priority. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she said.
Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment regarding Egypt’s policy toward the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts displayed abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they are not pinning hopes on the government to secure its return.
‘‘The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,’’ said Hawass. ‘‘I will use the media and the intellectuals to tell the (British) museum they have no right.’’


UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
Updated 30 November 2022

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
  • Rashid Rover is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1

DUBAI: The launch of the UAE’s moon rover has been delayed by one day for “additional pre-flight checks”, it was announced on Wednesday.

Rashid Rover, the Arab world’s first lunar mission, is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, SpaceX said in a statement.

 

 

The UAE’s lunar mission is the product of a partnership with SpaceX and Japan-based ispace inc., which created the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander aboard the Falcon 9 rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover, weighing 10 kilograms and stored inside the Japanese lander, is due to land around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater after a five-month journey.

Once launched, the integrated spacecraft will take a low-energy route to the moon rather than a direct approach, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center earlier said.

If the lunar mission succeeds, the UAE will be the fourth country to land on the moon. The mission will also see the first spacecraft funded and built by a private Japanese firm to land on the moon.