Two banks in southern, and two in northern Lebanon were damaged in separate attacks over the weekend, as public anger grows over the country’s economic crisis.
A Fransabank branch in Sidon was assailed with a homemade bomb late on Saturday night, while a Credit Libanais building in Tyre was attacked with Molotov cocktails in the early hours of yesterday.
Attacks in the northern town of Tripoli took place late yesterday, and in the early hours of today, but details of the assaults remain unclear.
According to the National News Agency (NNA), in the first attack, in Sidon, “unknown individuals threw a hand grenade at Fransabank’s branch on the city’s Riad al-Solh Street, which smashed its glass façade and false ceiling”.
Adding that, the attack took place while the bank branch was closed. NNA later reported that an investigation was underway after cameras in the area showed two people outside the bank at the time of the explosion.
A group calling itself the “Tribunal of the Armed Revolution” claimed responsibility for the attack, according to local media.
Other protest groups, however, were quick to repudiate the claims, emphasising their commitment to peaceful demonstrations, in a report by the National.
According to local outlet LBCI TV, the second attack took place when “unknown individuals threw three Molotov bombs at a bank in Tyre”, smashing the part of the bank’s glass façade.
Videos which circulated on social media show three individuals lighting items which burst into flames and throwing them at the bank before fleeing the scene.
Videos of last night’s attacks in Tripoli show a group of individuals watching the façade of a bank burning, while a second shows a Molotov cocktail smashing part of the glass exterior of a bank.
The attacks come as public anger at banks is rising. Lebanon’s currency, the lira, has been in freefall in recent weeks, losing over 60 per cent of its value against the dollar.
The downward spiral was accelerated after a circular from the Central Bank banned dollar withdrawals from foreign currency accounts or money transfer offices, last week.
The decision brought protesters back to the streets, in defiance of national lockdown orders, to demonstrate against the slipping economic and living conditions in the country.
Protesters have criticised the central bank governor’s management of the crisis, calling for Riad Salameh, who has held the position since 1993, to be dismissed, and accused private banks of holding their foreign currency savings hostage.
Many Lebanese keep their savings in foreign currency, often US dollars – a result of the country’s large diaspora that, until recently, sent large amounts of foreign currency home.
Since October, however, banks have imposed stringent capital controls which limit the amount account holders can withdraw, sometimes to as little as $100 per week.
Most residents are now barred from working due to the pandemic-related national lockdown, and without social safety nets, or access to savings, hundreds of thousands are becoming desperate.