Lebanon News

Quiet calm of Bir Hasan shattered, residents say

BEIRUT: The twin suicide bombings that rocked the southern Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan shattered the peace and calm that has characterized the quiet residential area for years, sparking fears among its residents that the worst was yet to come.

“I heard the sound of a small explosion. Just like everybody else in the neighborhood, I went outside to see what happened and where the smoke was billowing from,” Rabih Istanbuli said, standing outside one of two furniture showrooms he manages in the area.

“A few minutes later, there was a very loud explosion. I saw people falling from balconies and glass falling on people who came out to see what was happening,” he told The Daily Star.

Two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Bir Hasan just before 10 a.m., killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 150, security sources said. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Several Arab embassies are located in Bir Hasan, a heavily guarded upper-middle class neighborhood that is quietly wealthy relative to the surrounding areas.

The explosions set a number of cars ablaze and scattered bodies along the road. Panicked, screaming people were seen scrambling to leave the area.

Many of the victims had gathered to attend to those wounded by the first explosion when the second one hit.

Ambulances and fire trucks with sirens blazing rushed to the scene as personnel bundled the bodies of victims, some caked with blood, into vehicles and attended to the survivors. Human limbs were scattered around the explosion site.

Army personnel along with Hezbollah members, a few dressed in black and carrying machine guns, blocked the roads leading to the site, preventing some journalists from entering.

Forensic teams, Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr and acting State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud were also seen at the site.

Istanbuli said he was worried about his five colleagues who were in hospital receiving treatment after suffering wounds from the blast.

Asked about whether his business would suffer losses as a result of the attack, he replied: “Both showrooms suffered damage. It is not the first time that they suffered damage but we have to start from scratch every time.”

Although he voiced hope that Lebanon would emerge from what seemed to be a cycle of violence, he was less optimistic about his business resuming normal operations soon.

“I believe no one will visit this area for a long time,” he said, pointing to the pieces of shattered glass that had damaged the display furniture.

Similar pessimism was expressed by Hasan Abbas, who works at a medical equipment company nearby. “I hope this will not herald a new phase in which suicide bombers hit areas with establishments and shops,” he said.

Some residents of the neighborhood said they were thinking of moving from the area.

“I am leaving this place, I can’t have my kids see all this,” said one woman, who, along with her maid, was carrying bags full of clothes.

Shocked and devastated, many people came to the scene of the explosion to look for missing relatives.

Wissam said that one of his two Ethiopian maids was missing.

“They went out to the balconies when the first explosion happened ... one is still missing and the other is alive,” he said, standing outside the building where he lives.

The blasts caused extensive damage to nearby buildings, destroying balconies and cars and shattering glass.

But even before the day was out, many residents and shop owners were beginning to clear the rubble.

“Everything is shattered, all the glass, everything, no doors were left unbroken,” said Mohammad, who was at his friend’s apartment nearby at the time of the explosion.

“We came out and it was just bizarre. It was like watching a movie, I swear. The first time I’ve seen something like this with my own eyes ... dead people on the ground,” he said. “Bir Hasan was known to be the safest area in Beirut and now it’s in pieces.”

Hussein, Mohammad’s friend and roommate, said he wouldn’t be leaving the area, despite the attack.

“I have work here. I want to wait it out. I mean, I doubt there will be another bomb here again. Once they hit, I think we are safe,” he said.

Lawmakers also arrived to the scene to express their solidarity, including MPs Hekmat Dib and Emile Rahmeh from the Change and Reform bloc and Hezbollah MPs Nawar Saheli and Bilal Farhat.

Also present was caretaker Culture Minister Gaby Layoun and caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, who lives in the area.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 20, 2013, on page 3.

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