Outside Makfouz Rouweiss store, Dahiyeh.
This observer was sitting with my friend Zuhair on my balcony in south Beirut, when at 6:20 pm on 8/15/13 there was a huge blast that seemed to shake our 12 story concrete building more than the one just down the street did on July 9. We both leaned over the railing at the same time, me commenting that I did not see any smoke and he said only two words,” Bir Abed.” He meant, as it turned out that the blast, rather than being two blocks east and one north of our buildings entrance as was the case with the last one, it was three blocks east and three blocks south. It was on the same road as the July bombing, but this time, about two hundred yards from the Hezbollah Media Relations office, at the end of our street, which my friend Dr. Ibrahim Mousawi heads.
We parted without speaking and thanks to my motorbike and being known to many of the security guys who within minutes of the blast were moving metal traffic barriers to block the area’s streets to check everyone in the area, and waived me through, I arrived in a few minutes amidst screams and wails, shouting, scorched bodies, massive flames from many cars and the fronts of buildings blown off, shop fronts destroyed, and dense black smoke pluming over the area and visible for miles.
I stood for more than an hour just inside a women’s shoe store sometimes moving along the sidewalk, which front had been blown off and wanting to stay out of the way, just watching and grimacing as emergency vehicles began to arrive and thousands, not hundreds, of Hezbollah security and supporters, many armed, arrived and directed the fire trucks and ambulance, helped wounded neighbors among much shouting and emotion. Grown men crying, women praying, and before long a group of young men beating their chests in defiance, chanting “Haidar, Haidar, Haidar’ and Shia ritual meant to identify with the events of Karba in 680 when Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) sacrificed himself in defense of Islam.
A particularly bizarre incident for this observer occurred when a friend called and asked where I was and if I was ok. I replied, “I am at the scene near Mahfouz Stores in Ruwais next to a butcher shop and down the block from Banque Libano-Française and Harkous Chicken Restaurant. She later told me those were my exact words. When we hung up the phone I glanced again to my right and did a double take at what was the remains of a partly butcher-carved sheep or maybe half a hanging cow. Both are common sights in this part of the world.
As time passed I glanced again at the handing animal and thought to myself that the explosive device must have contained pellets because the animal carcass flesh, which had visible darkened in color since I first stood next to it, no further than five feet away, maybe half an hour earlier on arriving. It also seemed to be riddled and partly shredded. I did not pay much attention to it since I was surrounded by such chaos and arriving EMS vehicles and people being helped into them.
Not much later, a Hezbollah security/civil defense worker came and stood next to me. I had seen him around the neighborhood before and he did not ask for ID which I expected and always keep at the ready. “Animal! Dog!” he exclaimed in disgust as he glared at the dangling carcass and spit. “Aiwa, maybe a sheep or cow but surely not a dog this observer obtusely replied.” He looked at me quizzically and said, “You no understand. This is the dog who did the operation!”, meaning, the suicide bomber who may have been the driver of a white van that neighbors say they saw deriving back and forth looking for a parking space just before the blast. I looked at the hanging carcass again and saw what did look like part of a leg, and maybe half an arm, but the mass of the flesh was in the middle, maybe a stomach and organs.
Then it dawned on me, as many things do these days, ever so slowly. We were not even in front of a butcher shop! But a shop selling pink and gold small hand bags which we strewn all around, next to the shoe store. And there was no butchers hook to be seen, rather the body has been blown across the intersection and somehow lodged in between two thick workmen’s planks that were maybe 12 feet off the ground on rusty thick metal scaffolding. I could not see if there was a head attached, and did not want to appear nosy, but something was keeping the body hanging just above us between the two planks. Soon three others guy arrived and, presumably out of Islamic respect for the dead, two of them climbed the scaffolding and tore some plastic strips off a banner advertising a sale and draped it over the remains.
I am not sure how the security guys could be so certain that this was the remains of the bomber rather than one of the so far 27 presumed killed (a father and three of his children remain unaccounted for). More than 340 are reported wounded as of press time, with victims being taken to Hezbollah’s Rassoul Hosptal on airport road, to Bahman Hosptial next to where I live and which is run by the Sayed Mohamed Hussein Fadallah charity, and others were taken to Al Bourj and Sahel hospitals in our neighborhood. Additionally, approximately 350 families have been displaced.
Almost predictably, some local politicians are blaming Israel whose government has denied any involvement. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri both are accusing Israel, in almost knee-jerk fashion. President Suleiman said the Dahiyeh blast “bears the hallmark of terrorism and Israel,” saying “all Lebanese must show solidarity.”
But their accusations are in all likelihood being made not based on hard evidence but for the political purpose of an admirable attempt to tamp down Sunni-Shia speculations and suspicion vis a vis the others.
Analyst and Hezbollah expert Waddah Charara, whose views this observer particularly values, said Hezbollah’s arch-enemy Israel could have been behind the latest car bombing.”I think the attack is part of a war being waged between Israel and the Shiite movement, that recently brought on the Israeli soldiers’ incursion into Lebanese territory,” he told the media.
Hezbollah has not taken a clear position as of press time and have declined to comment. But SG Hassan Nasrallah with speak tonight and give this thoughts.
Fadallah MP, Dr. Ali Fayed, whom I consider a valued friend and who is one of those within Hezbollah working to enact the elementary right to work and to own a home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon said last night on NBN TV, that the explosion was a “very dangerous act” but highlighted that Hezbollah and its supporters will not be dragged to strife. Fayyad said regardless of the perpetrators “in case it’s Israel or terrorist organizations” that stand behind the attack the Lebanese must unite.
Plenty of other suspects are based here in Lebanon as well as many militia inside Syria, who have moved elements into Beirut. A video uploaded hours after the blast shows residents of the rebel-held city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital in Syria outside regime control, celebrating the devastating car bomb attack and offering sweets to passers-by and holding a banner reading: “Distributing sweets on the occasion of the explosion in Beirut’s Dahiyeh.”
Separately, one of the more than two –hundred active militia in Syria, which calls itself the Company of Aisha Umm al-Muminin, the Prophet Mohammed’s favorite wife is claiming responsibility and promises more attacks.
Several other Syrian rebel groups, some with members now in Lebanon, have issued threats against Hezbollah and vowed to target it.
Analysis of the increased number of security cameras in our neighborhood may reveal more clues plus it is rumored that one suspect was arrested at the scene and is being interrogated. Revisiting the scene this morning at 3 a.m. this observer found it cordoned off, flood lite, and numerous investigators working the scene.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati called for a national day of mourning on 8/16/13.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o firstname.lastname@example.org