Dahiyeh, BEIRUT — This observer’s neighbors seemed to believe, as most of us did, especially over the past year, that the war in Syria would in one form or another spill into our neighborhood, Dahiyeh, the Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut near the Shatila and Burj el Barajeh Palestinian refugee camps.
And now it has, with a vengeance.
As this observer left his flat Tuesday morning and walked toward his motorbike on Abbas Mousawi Street en route to Shatila Palestinian Camp for a 10:30 a.m. appointment, at precisely 10:15 a.m. there was a tremendously loud blast. It seemed to shake our massive 12 story apartment building, which had been rebuilt by the WAAD (“promise”) Hezbollah construction enterprise, from the mountain of rubble it was turned into in July of 2006, leveled as most in the neighborhood were, by American weapons in the service of the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine.
Contrary to media reports, the blast was not on my street, Abass Mousawi, behind Bahman Hospital, but rather down a side street one block over and two east toward the Hezbollah media office near the Hezbollah sponsored Islamic Cooperation Center in the area of Bir al-Abed. The explosion occurred close to the Coop supermarket and Salah Ghandour Square.
Jumping on my motorbike, I was one of the first to arrive on the scene face to face with an inferno that initially seemed to engulf ten or so cars in a parking lot surrounded by eight or nine Waad built high-rise apartment buildings, being a few of the more than 250 residential buildings in our neighborhood leveled during the 33 day July 2006 war.
Finally, it seemed like an eternity, two fire trucks arrived and made their way thru the rapidly expanding chaos as nearby residential buildings with windows blown out started to empty of their inhabitants amidst fears that another blast may be triggered. A few men joined this observer in pulling the very long hoses close to the inferno as medics arrived and searched for injured. At press time, 38 neighbors were treated, including several children, at nearby Bahman Hospital, and others rushed to Rasoul al-Alham hospital and Cardiac Care Center, ten minutes away on airport road.
I observed a six feet by six feet, around eight foot deep crater at the blast site. As I watched the Red Crescent and Hezbollah emergency services staff care for the injured and the many who were traumatized, the crowd quickly grew to a few thousand, with fear, shock, and anger spreading. Many elderly slumped against walls and curbs dazed while neighbor helped neighbor, especially the young to cope with the effects of the blast which shattered windows and caused serious damage to several nearby residential buildings, including cracks in their walls. There was much panic and shouting, with crying turning to anger and with people caring for the elderly and children with apartment building entrances set up as emergency treatment areas and neighbors helping neighboring reassure one another.
The Hezbollah neighborhood of Dahiyeh has been for years considered the safest residential area of Beirut due to strong Hezbollah security measures that over the past year have been intensified, including the use of packs of explosive sniffing dogs moving up and across the streets and alleys, usually around three in the morning, which I have noticed since I often work during the night when its cooler and more quiet, and hearing a barking dog is very rare around here. More scrutiny-security cameras have been placed on utility poles and on rooftops, with security personnel frequently stopping and questioning new arrivals or visitors to the area and at time residents told not to go to their roofs.
Yet, as Syria’s President Bashar Assad noted several months ago, despite intensive security measures taken in Damascus, it is still very difficult to prevent car bombings.
The speculation has already started concerning who committed this act of terrorism, one day before the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan. Whoever is was, cause the carnage by booby trapping a 1998 Renault Rapid. No one has yet claimed credit and likely will not. Hezbollah’s International Relations official Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar told al-Manar that the blast was carried out by the supporters of the so-called American-Israeli project. “There are clear Israeli fingerprints,” Ammar said as he inspected the damage.
The Bir al-Abed bombing , not far from the 1985 CIA bombing ordered by William Casey that targeted Sayed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, in which 80 citizens were murdered and more than 200 wounded, is interpreted by some of the residents in my building (two families so far telling me they will move) as simply a message for Hezbollah to leave Syria. Because if it was a typical al Qaeda operation aiming at maximum civilian deaths, detonating the blast a few hundred yards in any direction would have left many more victims, according to a Hezbollah bomb specialist.
This observer counted 15 destroyed vehicles and more than 20 damaged. A fierce fire erupted among some of the vehicles, sending thick black smoke billowing high into the sky. I also saw gentlemen who I assumed was the parking lot attendant badly wounded. Another wounded man near him seemed also to be in serious condition.
Reuters has reported five were killed, but Hezbollah is denying this report. I met the Hezbollah media director on the scene, and his job was to get the facts straight before the Party of God made any announcements.
For many in my neighborhood, a major concern is that Syria’s troubles will reopen the wounds of Lebanon’s long civil war, but this time with the Sunni community, which by and large supports the Syrian opposition, being pitted against Hezbollah, the powerful Shite led resistance organization which supports Syria President Bashar Assad.
A reliable Hezbollah source has just advised this observer that 53 have been wounded, but so far no confirmed fatalities. This is the second time this year that the Hezbollah stronghold has come under attack following threats of retaliation by Syrian rebels.
The concierge of my building reported that as of 4 p.m. Beirut time on July 9, two suspects have been arrested following the blast.