Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beirut suburb residents resilient despite tragedy - The Daily Star

Ruwaiss, Lebanon: The smell of burning still hung heavy in the air as first responders rushed to the Hezbollah stronghold of Ruwaiss in Beirut's southern suburbs to evacuate stranded residents of a building struck by a massive car bomb just a few hours before.

Through the smoke, people could be seen waving cell phones from the roof to grab the attention of rescuers shining lights into gaping, blackened apartments from a basket crane. The damage appeared to reach all the way to the top of the sixth floor building.

The road leading up to the security cordon was mostly clear of debris, save for a woman's shoe and a discarded blanket which were trampled underfoot by security personnel, first responders, and journalists.

On the bridge overlooking the site, about a hundred onlookers watched as the rescue unfolded, Hezbollah banners fluttering in the breeze above their heads.

Civil Defense, Red Cross, the Army and Hezbollah appeared to be working fluidly together to clear the wounded and let residents and shop owners in, with Hezbollah clearly in charge of security, including checking journalists' credentials. Ambulances were ushered in and out, and paths were quickly cleared for fire and water trucks.

The car bomb- to date the deadliest against the southern suburbs- killed at least 16 people and wounded over 200 in the southern suburb of Beirut Thursday.  Security sources earlier put the death toll at 22.

Hoda Daher, 55, was minding her flower shop just one block over when she felt the ground shake and heard the force of the explosion.

"I looked out and saw smoke and fire and everyone started running towards it," she recalled. "My first thought was 'where is my son' because he works in front of that building."

Daher thanked God that her son along with the rest of her family was safe, along with their house, which is also in the same neighborhood.

"This is the second time, but what can we do?" she said. Thursday's explosion was not far from the parking lot where another car bomb exploded on July 9, wounding 50 but killing none. 

Both explosions are widely believed to have been carried out by groups with ties to Syria, in retaliation for Hezbollah's decision to fight alongside regime forces. Local residents told The Daily Star that Hezbollah had tightened security measures significantly since the July 9 blast and regularly searched unknown persons or vehicles.

Shortly after the explosion on Thursday, a previously unheard of group calling itself the "Brigade of Aisha, the Mother of the Faithful" claimed responsibility for the attack.

"God willing, despite everything, we will overcome this," said Daher, laughing off a question about whether she would ever consider leaving the area.

"Leave it? Leave it to who?" she said.

Iman Jabak, 43, had just stepped out of a shop where she was buying shorts for her son when the explosion happened.

"We saw smoke and ran," she said, recounting the story from the safety of her family's electronics shop several blocks away. Jabak considered herself lucky that her family was unhurt, and their home only suffered a few broken windows.

Her teenage daughters, Reine and Rawan Charrara, 17 and 18 respectively, tried to appear non-chalant.

 "We're used to it," said Reine with adolescent aplomb. "They promised us more, and we're ready."

Her mother jumped in to disagree.

"We are scared, we are anxious, we are not used to it and we will never get used to it," she said, looking meaningfully at her daughters. "We are disgusted."

Still, the family appeared to find relief in humor.

"It's all because of the shorts!" joked another relative. "If you hadn't been out buying shorts, you wouldn't have been there!"
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