BEIRUT: The southern suburbs were on high alert Monday, with checkpoints at every entrance manned by Hezbollah members who searched the trunk and engine of each and every car and motorbike. Drivers and passengers were asked to present identification at more checkpoints inside the affected neighborhoods. Pedestrians were also seen lining up on the sidewalk to have their papers checked.
A source close to Hezbollah confirmed that the Amal Movement had also mobilized its fighters and set up checkpoints in Shiyah and other neighborhoods controlled by the party.
The additional security measures slowed traffic considerably, but most residents who spoke to The Daily Star said they saw no alternative after Thursday’s deadly car bombing in Ruwaiss which took the lives of 30 people and wounded scores more. It was the second such attack on the southern suburbs, and authorities expect more attempts.
“They have boosted security for our own protection,” said Hanadi Badreddine, 35, a local resident who lives and works just a few hundred meters from where the bombing took place. “They renewed security efforts following the first bombing, of course, but this time they are doing more – they should have been doing it from the start.”
Both bombings are widely believed to have been carried out by militants sympathetic to the armed Syrian opposition after several groups in Syria vowed to take revenge on Hezbollah and its supporters for the group’s decision to fight alongside regime forces. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has been unwavering in his support for the government of President Bashar Assad, and his supporters say they will not give in to what they see as intimidation from ‘takfiri’ groups.
Although Badreddine was supportive of the extra security measures, the prospect of going through multiple checkpoints every day for the foreseeable future weighed on her.
“It will definitely affect businesses and daily life, but what can we do? Protecting lives is more important than anything else.”
Hasan Yassine, who owns a bookstore near the site of the bombing, called the security measures “necessary.”
“It’s a hassle, but it’s for security,” he explained, brushing off concerns that over time, the extra steps could harm the local economy.
“The general economic situation in the country is bad, so I don’t think this will make much of a difference,” Yassine said.
Just then, a young man with a trim beard in civilian dress entered the shop and politely asked a reporter for press credentials. He glanced at the press card, nodded in thanks, and left.
“We all support these measures, and hopefully they will succeed” in preventing another attack, Yassine said after the young man was gone.
Ibrahim Itani, another local resident, seemed resentful, however, calling the checkpoints “annoying.”
“There should be cards issued for local residents,” he suggested. “They searched my car 16 times today. They should issue cards to certain cars so you don’t have to get searched every time you go in and out.”
Itani went on to say that in his view, the security measures were belated.
“God rest their souls, but they [the victims of the bombing] are dead. They should have done these security measures before.”
A few streets away at the blast site, a team from Hezbollah’s reconstruction body, Jihad al-Binaa, was busy surveying the damage from the bombing, which blackened the faces of two buildings and did “heavy damage” to five, according to the source close to the party.
All together, 25 buildings including 475 homes and 128 shops were affected, the source said, adding that Jihad al-Binaa was working with the Higher Relief Council on the reconstruction.
“Right now we are putting up supports and scaffolding and removing anything that might fall and hurt someone,” said a source in Jihad al-Binaa who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We’re still assessing the extent of the damage.”
Banners of defiance and support could be seen hanging from several buildings, with slogans such as “we will never be humiliated” and “we will remain with Palestine, no matter what you do.”
One local shop had erected a large sign promising to reopen and be “better than ever” in honor of an employee who was lost in the bombing.
Moussa Haidar still sported a swollen eye as he toured the site of the explosion with his mother and sister. Haidar, who worked at a local mechanic’s shop, had been sitting just a few dozen meters from the bomb when it exploded.
“The whole world went black,” he said of the moment after the blast.
As evening drew near, a crowd began to gather for a protest organized by several civil society activists in solidarity with the southern suburbs.
Ali Talib, a former contestant on the political reality show Al Zaim and one of the protest’s organizers, said he wanted to remind Lebanese everywhere that the bombing in the southern suburbs could have happened anywhere.
“This language of violence is rejected in Lebanon, no matter where it happens,” he said.
The protest attracted a few dozen demonstrators, mostly locals, some of whom wore black and carried pictures of loved ones who died in the bombing.