Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dahiyeh residents mostly unfazed by blast

[Originally posted at NOW]

Damaged cars across the street from the blast site (NOW/Alex Rowell)

The flames that had engulfed over a dozen cars in an outdoor parking lot as a result of Tuesday morning’s explosion in the Bir al-Abid neighborhood of Haret Hreik, in Beirut’s southern suburbs, had been doused by the time NOW arrived at the scene, but the damage wrought by the reported 35kg bomb planted under a car was extensive.

For at least a hundred meters down the adjacent residential and commercial street, the sidewalks were smothered in glass shards blown out of the now-bare window frames of shops, parked cars, and multi-story apartments. The awnings of a bakery and an accessories shop across the street from the blast site sat mangled like collapsed construction girders, while the wall of the car park itself had been punched in with a meter-wide crater.

As hundreds of local residents flooded the streets, snapping camera-phone photos and straining to get a view of the charred car park, a team of private security officials carrying walkie-talkies and wearing red baseball caps – presumably members of Hezbollah, the preeminent party in the southern suburbs – deployed on the scene, urging the crowd over megaphones to disperse. Meanwhile, the team of security officials prevented non-Hezbollah-affiliated journalists from entering or even photographing the blast site. “Only take pictures in that direction,” said one to NOW, pointing away from the car park. “Stay here,” said another, motioning in vain for a colleague to come over, before getting distracted elsewhere and forgetting.

According to eyewitnesses NOW spoke to at an electronics store near the blast, a man driving a red Nissan 4x4 had parked in the lot that morning. When asked by the concierge how long he planned to park, adding that more money would be required for a lengthy stay, the man apparently paid the extra without specifying a time. Minutes later, said the eyewitnesses, the same Nissan car exploded.

Others nearby were more preoccupied with personal trauma. A middle-aged woman sitting in an adjacent shop breathed heavily as she recalled her fears for her niece, who had suffered minor injuries from the blast. “Thank God she’s all right,” she repeated as NOW moved onward.

However, despite injuring over 50 people, the bomb did not appear to have dampened local spirits in general. “Wait a second,” said one resident as NOW was preparing to take a photo of a smashed store façade. “Let the Sayyid [Hassan Nasrallah] be there first,” he said with a grin as he placed a photo of the Hezbollah Secretary-General on a shelf. In adjacent Dahiyeh neighborhoods, residents appeared entirely unfazed by the bomb, with men, women, and children walking around as though nothing unusual had happened.

Indeed, the only tangible ill-will from the crowd at the blast site was directed at Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who arrived at around 1pm to heckles from Hezbollah supporters, from whom he took refuge in a nearby building for around twenty minutes. Video footage later emerged showing him being escorted to safety by police under cover fire from Hezbollah gunmen. The reason for this hostile reception is unclear.

Nor, as of Tuesday evening, have the perpetrators of the attack been established. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has previously claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on pro-Hezbollah towns in the Beqaa Valley, denied responsibility for Tuesday’s car bomb, saying the blame fell “directly or indirectly” on Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. Though rebel brigades have threatened in the past to attack Dahiyeh, the FSA also denied involvement in a dual rocket attack on the area in May.

Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the Lebanese divide accused Israel of involvement, with Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar saying the attack “bears the fingerprint of the Israeli enemy and its tools,” and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri describing it as an “[attempt] by the Israeli enemy to push [Lebanon] to strife by organizing terrorist attacks.”

Yara Chehayed and Vivianne El Khawly contributed reporting.

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