Lebanon News

Bir Hasan security measures anger shop owners

A damaged furniture shop is seen near the site of Wednesday explosions in Bir Hasan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Shop owners near the headquarters of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV burned tires Friday to protest a spate of local road closures, the first signs of discomfort with the party’s recently tightened security measures following this week’s double car bombing.

“We are not against security measures, but there should be limits,” said Hisham, who works just meters away from the television station in Bir Hasan, where there are dozens of shops. “When the road near my pharmacy is closed and my sales totally drop, this means I will eventually go bankrupt.”

“Business was already stagnating and now it dropped by 80 percent.”

Hezbollah has boosted security measures around the TV station after a twin suicide bombing Wednesday targeted the Iranian Cultural Center in Bir Hasan, a southern suburb of Beirut, killing 11 people and wounding more than 125.

The operation was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and is the latest in a series of bombings that have struck areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, both in Beirut’s southern suburbs and in the Bekaa Valley. Most of the attacks have been claimed by radical Syrian rebel groups in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. Iran is a major backer of the Lebanese party.

The unprecedented spate of attacks has prompted Hezbollah to beef up security measures in areas inhabited by its supporters or near possible future targets. Rumors have circulated that a rigged car dismantled by the Lebanese Army last week was meant to be detonated near Al-Manar.

Part of the road by the TV station was closed with cement blocks on both lanes Friday, while AK-47-toting Hezbollah security personnel milled around.

But anger over the new measures prompted shop ownersto burn tires in the area because the restrictions were “damaging” their businesses.

Hisham said he was not in his shop when the protest happened, but added that after the demonstration a delegation of shop ownersvisited Al-Manar’s headquarters, where they were apparently promised that the measures would be eased soon.

“We understand the principle of boosting security measures because [we] will also die if an explosion happens. But we are now slowly dying [as business drops],” Hisham said.

He pointed to a closed shop facing his, saying that the ownerhad not bothered opening since Wednesday as he knew clients would no longer visit the area.

Mohammad Saab, who owns a shop for car lubricants in the neighborhood, acknowledged the security threats but said that he had to earn a living.

“We are threatened just as they are threatened. We know that we might die, but what to do? We have families that we need to feed. Why did they put all these blocks? Danger is everywhere, not only here,” Saab said.

“People’s businesses have been ruined. There are companies, warehouses and shops that need to pay salaries to workers and whose owners have families.”

Not everyone in the area was so keen to talk, with some saying the security measures weren’t having a negative effect.

“Sun and high temperatures set the tires ablaze,” one man quipped.

“Even if you speak to everybody here, you will not be able to make anyone say a word against Hezbollah. Al-Manar TV represents honor and dignity,” another said.

The two men, who refused to be identified, both said that they were optimistic the road would be reopened soon.

But the owner of a nearby shop selling bathroom items was more outspoken. “The road closures have negatively affected all businesses here,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “We visited Al-Manar today and they promised to reduce security measures in the coming two days. Let’s see what will happen by Monday.”

Sitting on a chair and smoking a cigarette with other people by his shop, the man said the delegation had been told Al-Manar TV would move from the area within three months.

As another man joined, the conversation turned to the road closures and whether security in Lebanon would improve soon.

‘We have to be patient, God willing, things will be better once Yabroud falls,” one said, referring to the Syrian rebel-held town in the Qalamoun region in which most of the rigged cars that have been used in recent attacks are believed to have been prepared. The town is currently under siege by Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters.

But the owner of the bathroom wares shop was less optimistic.

“Things will not improve,” he said. “I believe all that we have experienced so far is nothing compared to what is coming. We will end up having two car bombs per day.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 22, 2014, on page 2.




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