Two banks in Lebanon have been jammed by customers trying to withdraw their own money which has been frozen as the country suffers an economic meltdown.

Most have been tied up in foreign currency assets over the past two years, with banks allowing only small withdrawals that often do not cover the essentials.

In two separate incidents on Wednesday, banks were blocked by customers trying to access their savings.

During a heist, a woman and a few associates brought what she said was a toy gun to a branch of BLOM bank in Beirut and walked away with more than $13,000 in cash in her account.

The woman, Sali Hafiz, said she stormed the bank to get money for her sister’s cancer treatment.

BLOM bank said customers were threatened in the raid, with the branch manager and treasurer forced to take money out of a safe.

Later, a gunman went to a branch of Bankmed in the mountain town of Aley to retrieve some of his trapped savings.

He surrendered shortly thereafter.

It comes a month after a man robbed a bank in Beirut to withdraw funds to treat his sick father.

He was arrested but later released after the bank dropped the charges.

I have nothing more to lose’

Before going into hiding, Ms Hafiz told local media that she had no choice but to rob the BLOM bank.

She said: “I have nothing left to lose, I have come to the end of the road.

“I got to a point where I was going to sell my kidney so my sister could get treatment.”

Ms Hafiz said she had tried to withdraw money two days earlier but was unable to do so.

Her mother told local television: “All we have is this money in the bank. My daughter was forced to take this money – it’s her right, it’s in her account – to treat her sister.”

Banks are supposed to make exceptions for customers trying to pay for things like hospital care, but many say that’s not happening.

Senior bankers have warned heists could increase.

One told Reuters: “I think this is an invitation for other people to do the same. As long as people get away with it, they will continue. What a failed state.”

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