Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns

Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Above, the shuttered branch of the Byblos bank in Ghazieh, south of Lebanon after an armed depositor stormed the placed earlier and demanded to withdraw his frozen savings. (AFP)
Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Above, scene at the Byblos Bank branch in Ghazieh, south of Lebanon after a depositor forcibly withdrew his savings. (Twitter)
Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Security men gather at the entrance of BLOM bank branch in Beirut on Sept. 16, 2022. (AP)
Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Media and security gather at the entrance of BLOM bank branch in Beirut on Sept. 16, 2022. (AP)
Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Protestors shout slogans as they sit outside an LGB Bank branch in Ramlet Al-Bayda area in Beirut on Sept. 16, 2022. (Reuters)
Update Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
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Members of police and army stand guard outside a Bankmed branch in Chehime, Lebanon on Sept. 16, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 September 2022

Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns

Lebanese banks declare three-day closure over security concerns
  • Bank holdups by increasingly frustrated depositors snowball in Lebanon
  • Strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency have been imposed since 2019

BEIRUT: Depositors wanting to recover withheld savings carried out hold-ups in at least five different banks across Lebanon on Friday.

The banks have been denying people access to their money for three years, with the government yet to establish a legal framework for the recovery of deposits, pushing depositors to retrieve their funds by force.

In Friday’s incidents, security forces negotiated with depositors, some of whom voluntarily headed to police stations to surrender after making sure their money safely reached relatives.

They followed events on Wednesday, when Sali Hafiz stormed her local bank with a toy gun and managed to recover part of her savings to help pay for her sister’s cancer treatment. The security forces issued an arrest warrant against her, but she remains at large.

Hassan Moghnieh, the head of the Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Arab News: “It is an uprising of depositors who can no longer endure more than three years of having their savings withheld. Five banks were stormed on Friday, and there is news about more banks being stormed in Nabatiyeh in the south, Batroun, and Halba in the north.”


Banks reportedly held up by depositors

• Byblos Bank in Ghazieh
• BLOM Bank at Beirut’s Tarik El-Jadida
• Bank Audi in Chiyah
• Banque Libano-Française branches at Kafaat and Hamra
• Lebanon & Gulf Bank at Ramlet El-Baida
• BLOM Bank in Concorde
• Fransabank in Beirut
• BankMed in Chehim in Mount Lebanon

Friday’s incidents prompted the bank association to hold an emergency meeting and decide to close banks for three days starting Monday.

Depositor Mohammed Reda Korkmaz and his son Ibrahim stormed the Byblos Bank branch in Ghazieh. The father held employees hostage, poured gasoline, and threatened to set the branch on fire if he did not get his money back.

Panic ensued at the bank for some time, and Korkomaz managed to retrieve $19,200 from his account and handed it over to someone who was waiting for him outside the bank.

It turned out that Korkmaz worked as a taxi driver, and he used a plastic pistol and a gasoline bottle to threaten employees. Later, he and his son surrendered, smiling to the security forces at the scene.

Abdel Rahman Sobra stormed the BLOM Bank branch in Tariq Al-Jdideh, one of the most popular and crowded neighborhoods in Beirut.

He claimed to have a gun in his pocket but did not use it to threaten employees.

He demanded to recover his withheld deposits, estimated at $165,000. Sobra said he was a businessman and is unable to pay his dues and cover his employees’ salaries.

A woman in her 80s later joined Sobra, asking to be allowed to withdraw her money as she needs to pay her medical bills.

Video footage from inside the bank showed that security forces entered to negotiate with Sobra but did not arrest him.

An armed depositor broke into the Bank of Lebanon and Gulf in Ramlet Al-Bayda, in the south of Beirut, carrying a hunting rifle. The depositor, identified as Jawad Sleem, is unemployed, according to his brother, who was waiting for him outside the bank.

Sleem used to work in real estate but became unemployed after the economic collapse in the country. He demanded $35,000 from his deposit of $50,000 and held five hostages inside the bank.

Armed with a gun, a depositor from Al-Moussawi family stormed the Libano-Française bank in Mrayjeh in one of Beirut’s southern suburbs, and forcibly took his entire deposit of $20,000.

A depositor who is a serving lieutenant in the Internal Security Forces broke into Bankmed in Chehime in Iklim El-Kharoub. It was said that he fired into the air.

Activist lawyer Haytham Azzo, known for defending civilians protesting in the streets and depositors breaking into banks, told Arab News that these depositors do not have criminal intentions, and only want their rightful property.

“This is the result of the state not addressing the frozen dollar deposits crisis as the economic crisis worsens. The state is turning normal civilians into criminals when they are not as such,” Azzo said.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called for an immediate meeting of the Central Security Council. “The law will be strictly enforced, however, I will not accept a confrontation between people and the security forces; There will be no gunfire or harsh treatment,” he said.

Mawlawi addressed depositors: “You cannot reclaim your rights in such a way as it harms the banking system and leads to the rest of the depositors losing their rights.”

Above, the smiling suspects surrender to the police. (Twitter)

The bank association said its decision to suspend work came “after the repeated attacks on banks, especially the physical assaults on bank employees and their dignity.”

It also came “after taking into account the risks that the customers are facing inside the branches subjected to storming operations.”

The association stressed that “it wants to protect the interests of depositors” and that “violence was not and will not be a solution.”

Economic expert Jassem Ajaka told Arab News that storming banks is a “very dangerous indicator that the government has given up on its role, to the extent that people themselves are now reclaiming their rights.”

He said: “This is a warning for the government to approve the draft of the Capital Control Law, restructure banks and acknowledge public debt.”

President of the Lebanese Depositors Association Hassan Moghnieh said: “An increase in bank break-ins was expected,” adding “closing down banks will not address the crisis, since the break-ins will restart on the first day of banks reopening their doors.”

He warned of “massive social chaos” and denied that “any party was responsible for depositors’ uprising.”

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries
Updated 19 sec ago

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

ABU DHABI: On a boat off the coast of an island near Abu Dhabi, marine scientist Hamad Al-Jailani feels the corals, picked from the reef nursery and packed in a box of seawater, and studies them carefully, making sure they haven’t lost their color.
The corals were once bleached. Now they’re big, healthy and ready to be moved back to their original reefs in the hope they’ll thrive once more.
“We try to grow them from very small fragments up to — now some of them have reached — the size of my fist,” Al-Jailani said, who’s part of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi’s coral restoration program.
The nursery gives corals the ideal conditions to recover: clear waters with strong currents and the right amount of sunlight. Al-Jailani periodically checks the corals’ growth, removes any potentially harmful seaweed and seagrass, and even lets the fish feed off the corals to clean them, until they’re healthy enough to be relocated.

In this frame from video, Hamad al-Jailani, marine scientist at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, shows a piece of restored coral underwater off the coast of Abu Dhabi on May 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or EAD, has been rehabilitating and restoring corals since 2021, when reefs off the United Arab Emirates’ coast faced their second bleaching event in just five years. EAD’s project is one of many initiatives — both public and private — across the country to protect the reefs and the marine life that depend on them in a nation that has come under fire for its large-scale developments and polluting industries that cause harm to underwater ecosystems. There’s been some progress, but experts remain concerned for the future of the reefs in a warming world.
Coral bleaching occurs when sea temperatures rise and sun glares flush out algae that give the corals their color, turning them white. Corals can survive bleaching events, but can’t effectively support marine life, threatening the populations that depend on them.
The UAE lost up to 70 percent of their corals, especially around Abu Dhabi, in 2017 when water temperatures reached 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), according to EAD. But Al-Jailani said 40-50 percent of corals survived the second bleaching event in 2021.
Although the bleaching events “did wipe out a good portion of our corals,” he said, “it did also prove that the corals that we have are actually resilient ... these corals can actually withstand these kind of conditions.”
Bleaching events are happening more frequently around the world as waters warm due to human-made climate change, caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas that emits heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Other coral reef systems around the world have suffered mass bleaching events, most notably Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
How to limit global warming and its effects will be discussed at length at the United Nations climate conference, which will be held in the UAE capital later this year.
The UAE is one of the world’s largest oil producers and has some of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions globally. The country has pledged to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which means all carbon dioxide emissions are either slashed or canceled out somehow, but the goal has been met with skepticism from analysts.

Zack Heikal, field technician of the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, dives into the water to visit a coral reef nursery off the coast of Abu Dhabi on May 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

But bleaching due to warming weather is not the only threat to coral reefs around the gulf. High oil tanker traffic, fossil-fuel related activities, offshore installations, and the exploitation of marine resources are all putting marine life under intense stress, according to the UN Environment Programme, causing them to degrade.
Environmentalists have also long criticized the UAE, and Dubai in particular, for its large-scale buildings and huge coastal developments.
The building of the Palm Jebel Ali, which began more than a decade ago and has been on hold since 2008, caused an outcry among conservationists after it reportedly destroyed about 8 square kilometers (5 square miles) of reef.
“More than 90 million cubic meters (23.8 billion gallons) of sediments were dredged and dropped, more or less on top of one of the remaining reefs near Dubai,” said John Henrik Stahl, the dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Khorfakkan University in Sharjah, UAE.
The project was meant to be similar to the Palm Jumeirah — a collection of small, artificial islands off the coast of Dubai in the shape of a palm tree.
Still, environmental projects persist across the coastline and throughout the emirates.
Development company URB has announced it wants to grow 1 billion artificial corals over a 200-square-kilometer area (124 square miles) and 100 million mangrove trees on an 80-kilometer (50-mile) strip of beaches in Dubai by 2040.
Still in the research and development phase, the project hopes to create 3D technology to print materials that can host algae, much like corals.
Members of Dubai’s diving community are also encouraging coral protection efforts.
Diving program director Amr Anwar is in the process of creating a certified coral restoration course that teaches divers how to collect and re-plant corals that have fallen after being knocked off by divers’ fins or a boat’s anchor.

PADI Course Director Amr Anwar fist bumps divers after replanting coral in Dubai on June 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

“I don’t want people to see broken corals and just leave them like that,” said Anwar. “Through the training we give people, they would be able to take these broken corals that they find and plant them elsewhere, and then see them grow and watch their progress.”
But experts say that unless the threat of overheating seas caused by climate change is addressed, coral bleaching events will continue to occur, damaging reefs worldwide.
Countries have pledged to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, after which scientists say the effects of warming on the planet could be much worse, and some even potentially irreversible. But analysts say most nations — including the UAE — are still way off that target.
“You have to make sure that the cause for the degradation of the coral reefs in the first place is no longer a threat,” said Stahl, the Khorfakkan University scientist. “Otherwise the restoration effort may be for nothing.”

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’
Updated 23 min 26 sec ago

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

KHARTOUM: The Sudanese government has declared United Nations envoy Volker Perthes “persona non grata,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.
“The Government of the Republic of Sudan has notified the Secretary-General of the United Nations that it has declared Mr. Volker Perthes ... persona non grata as of today,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday, just weeks after army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan accused Perthes of stoking the country’s conflict and requested his removal.
Perthes was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday for a series of diplomatic talks, according to the UN mission’s Twitter feed.
Since late last year, Perthes and the UN mission he heads in war-torn Sudan have been targeted by military and Islamist-backed protests denouncing perceived foreign interference.
In a letter to the UN last month, Sudan’s de facto leader Burhan blamed the envoy for exacerbating fighting between the army and the paramilitaries, accused him of not respecting “national sovereignty” and demanded he be replaced.
UN chief Antonio Guterres and members of the UN Security Council have stood by Perthes.
But last week, the Security Council voted to extend the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)’s mandate for just six months.
Created in June 2020 to support Sudan’s democratic transition after the fall of Omar Al-Bashir a year earlier, UNITAMS had previously been renewed annually for a year.

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM
Updated 09 June 2023

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM
  • Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region”
  • Saudi FM earlier said any normalization with Israel will have limited benefits " without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people"

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to undermine prospects for a Palestinian state, after talks in Saudi Arabia which linked normalization to peace efforts.

Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu to discuss “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken “discussed the need to uphold the commitments made at regional meetings in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to avoid measures that undermine the prospects for a two-state solution,” Miller said, referring to talks earlier this year in Jordan and Egypt that brought Israeli, Palestinian and US officials together.
Blinken in a speech this week before the leading US pro-Israel group said that he would work to win recognition of the Jewish state by Saudi Arabia — a major goal for Israel due to the kingdom’s size and role as guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.
Speaking alongside Blinken on Thursday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that normalization with Israel “is in the interest of the region” and would “bring significant benefits to all.”
“But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits,” he said.
“Therefore, I think we should continue to focus on finding a pathway toward a two-state solution, on finding a pathway toward giving the Palestinians dignity and justice.”
Netanyahu during his last stint in power won normalization from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain in what both he and the then US administration of Donald Trump saw as crowning achievements.
The longest-serving Israeli premier has returned to power leading the country’s most right-wing government ever with supporters adamantly opposed to a Palestinian state.


Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report
Updated 09 June 2023

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

RAMALLAH: Controversial judicial reforms proposed by Israeli’s far-right coalition government pose a threat to Palestinians, an independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN said on Thursday.

The proposals, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government control of judicial appointments, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel.

In a 56-page report, the commission said proposed legislation could increase taxation of pro-Palestinian NGOs and limit their ability to document Israeli soldiers’ activities in the occupied West Bank.

Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme religious-nationalist coalition would strip Israel’s Arab minority of citizenship and enable their deportation if they commit pro-Palestinian violence, the report said.

“The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems,” it said.

“Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavored communities, including Palestinian citizens.”

The commission, set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2021, found Israel had increasingly stifled rights advocates “through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The commission, which conducted about 130 interviews, also found that Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza had targeted Palestinian rights activists.

“The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists,” the report said.

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves
Updated 08 June 2023

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves
  • Media report suggests value is less than $200m
  • IMF praises government’s efforts to bolster economy, increase revenue

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s central bank has sufficient foreign reserves outside the country to fulfill its needs for hard currency and payments for imports, the Aden-based lender said.

The bank rejected media reports that its reserves had fallen below $200 million and said that despite the suspension of crude exports it had sufficient funds to meet demand and stabilize the national currency.

The reserves were held in a number of international banks and were sufficient for it to carry out its duties, it said.

It added it “will continue to hold weekly (foreign exchange) auctions to cover a portion of the market’s foreign currency requirements for imports of basic and essential materials through a transparent and competitive mechanism.”

The statement came after a Reuters report citing three Yemeni government sources said the central bank’s foreign currency reserves were almost depleted, having fallen below $200 million.

One of the sources declined to give a figure for the value of the reserves — to prevent a collapse of the Yemeni riyal — but the lender dismissed the claims and said its reserves were healthy.

Concerns were raised after representatives from the International Monetary Fund said that Houthi attacks on oil facilities in government-controlled Hadramout and Shabwa had reduced the country’s primary source of foreign currency revenue by more than 50 percent, which along with the rise in global oil prices, would increase its fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of GDP in 2022.

“Without a resumption of oil exports, the deficit is expected to widen further in 2023 despite cuts in much-needed expenditures,” the IMF team’s leader Joyce Wong said.

But she lauded the Yemeni government’s efforts to bolster the economy and increase revenue, which include strengthening state bodies, controlling expenditure, budget planning, tax management, taking additional measures to implement market exchange rates for customs revenues and controlling inflation.

“The mission encouraged the authorities to maintain this welcome reform momentum, including to push forward reforms in the electricity sector to reduce costs and increase revenue collection.”

Despite the central bank’s upbeat statement and the IMF’s backing for the government, the Yemeni riyal on Thursday fell to a new low of 1,350 to the US dollar, from 1,200 a month ago.

The currency began falling late last month, probably due to a stalemate in international diplomatic efforts to achieve a deal between Yemen’s warring factions.