A woman accompanied by activists and brandishing what she said was a toy gun broke into a Beirut bank branch, taking US$12,000 (£11,255) from her trapped savings.

Sali Hafez told local Al-Jadeed TV that she needed money to fund her sister’s cancer treatment.

She said she repeatedly went to the bank to ask for her money and was told she could only receive £173 a month in Lebanese pounds.

Ms Hafez said the toy gun belonged to her nephew.

“I had already begged the branch manager for my money, and I told him that my sister was dying, that she didn’t have much time left,” she said during the interview.

“I reached a point where I had nothing left to lose.”

A toy gun that was used by depositors to attack a bank is thrown to the ground in Beirut, Lebanon (Hussein Malla/AP)

Cash-strapped Lebanese banks have imposed strict limits on foreign currency withdrawals since 2019, tying up the savings of millions.

About three-quarters of the population have fallen into poverty as the economy of the small Mediterranean country continues to soar.

Ms Hafez and activists from a group called Depositors’ Outcry entered the BLOM Bank branch and stormed into the manager’s office.

They forced bank clerks to hand over $12,000 and the equivalent of about £866 in Lebanese pounds.

Ms Hafez said she had a total of $20,000 (£17,316) in savings trapped in that bank.

She said she had already sold many of her belongings and considered selling her kidney to fund her 23-year-old sister’s cancer treatment.

Nadine Nakhal, a bank customer, said the intruders “sprayed gasoline all over the interior and took out a lighter and threatened to light it.”

A man sprays Arabic on which we can read:
A man sprays Arabic that reads: ‘Bank robbery and prostitution’ on the window of a bank that was attacked in Beirut (Hussein Malla/AP)

She said the woman with the gun threatened to shoot the manager if she didn’t get her money.

Ms Hafez said in a livestreamed video she posted on her Facebook account that she had no intention of causing harm.

“I didn’t break into the bank to kill anyone or set the place on fire,” she said.

“I am here to assert my rights.

Ms Hafez has been celebrated as a social media hero in Lebanon as many in the small, crisis-stricken country struggle to make ends meet and recover their savings.

She encouraged others to take similar steps to recover their savings.

Some of the activists entered the bank with Ms Hafez, while others staged a protest at the entrance.

Ms Hafez eventually left with cash in a plastic bag, witnesses said.

A Lebanese policeman stands guard next to the window of a bank that was smashed
A Lebanese policeman stands guard next to the window of the bank which was smashed (Hussein Malla/AP)

Security forces outside arrested several of the activists, including a man carrying what appeared to be a handgun.

It was not immediately clear if it was also a toy.

The incident came weeks after a food delivery driver burst into another bank branch in Beirut and held 10 people hostage for seven hours, demanding tens of thousands of dollars from his trapped savings .

Most hailed him as a hero.

Lebanon has scrambled for more than two years to implement key reforms in its decimated banking sector and economy.

So far, he has failed to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a stimulus package that would release billions in international loans and aid to make the country viable again.

Meanwhile, millions of people are struggling to cope with widespread blackouts and soaring inflation.

“We must put an end to everything that is happening to us in this country,” Ms Nakhal said.

“Everyone’s money is stuck in the banks, and in this case, it’s someone who is sick. We must find a solution. »