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WEDNESDAY, 23 APR 2014
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Residents quietly flee southern suburbs
Civilians check their houses near the site of an explosion in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Civilians check their houses near the site of an explosion in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Fragile hopes that security in Beirut’s southern suburbs would improve following the arrests of high-profile bombing suspects and the formation of a new government were dashed Wednesday, prompting more and more residents to consider seeking refuge elsewhere.

Two suicide bombers struck the Beirut suburb of Bir Hasan during morning rush hour, killing six others and wounded scores more. While banners declaring solidarity with the resistance abound in the suburbs, residents say that beneath the bravado, a quiet fear has taken hold.

“There are a number of people around us who are looking to move to other areas since they feel that the area here is not as safe as other areas, although we all know that the entire country is a target,” said 23-year-old Abbas al-Hajj, a resident of Hay al-Sellom, speaking after Wednesday’s bombing.

“I moved into this neighborhood months ago since it’s close to the university campus. I would not move out now since I’m traveling to France very soon,” Hajj added.

Some have already started making the necessary arrangements.

For one family that has spent the last 25 years in the suburbs, leaving home was a difficult decision. But when two consecutive explosions hit Haret Hreik’s Arid Street “meters from home,” they were convinced that it was time to get out.

“We thought that things are only going to get worse,” the youngest member of the family, a 23-year-old engineer, told a reporter. He asked that his name not appear in print due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

“We no longer felt secure in the area and wanted to move to a neighborhood inside Beirut until things calmed down a little,” he added.

Months of looking for a suitable apartment to rent ended in vain. Sky-high prices for furnished apartments eventually drove the family to settle for a relative’s apartment in Aisha Bakkar.

“I was helping my parents look for a furnished, three-bedroom home and noticed that prices in mixed areas around the National Museum are in the region of $1,500-1,600 for an average apartment for four people. Since we’re not in a financial position where we can pay such a high rent, we had to settle for this,” the engineer said.

A 22 year-old resident of Hadath, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that for about a year he had been contemplating leaving the area where he was born and raised.

Although he said his decision was at least partially motivated by a desire for independence, the wave of explosions had convinced him that he should leave the suburbs as soon as he could afford to.

“I’d like to rent a small flat or perhaps a dorm in or around Hamra and I think more and more people are now leaving or considering leaving the area but some cannot afford to do so. There’s no doubt that this area is the top target for the terrorists,” he said.

Many residents who spoke to The Daily Star remained defiant, choosing to stay in the suburbs despite the ever-present threat of attack. Several equated their staying with a political choice to support Hezbollah.

Farah Sleem, who lives in Mreijeh, said her family intended to live and die in the suburbs and would not consider leaving under any circumstances.

“Since we feel that we belong to this area and all of our business is in this area, we will remain here,” said Sleem, who is studying English Literature at AUCE. “If you think of it, people who live in the suburbs have gone through much worse circumstances and we never left.”

Extremist groups with links to the armed Syrian opposition have declared war on “Hezbollah areas” in retaliation for the group’s role in the war in Syria. Many see the attacks as an attempt to turn the party’s base against it by targeting civilian areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. Residents were nearly unanimous in their opinion that the security situation would continue to deteriorate, despite the best efforts of the Army and Security Forces.

An elderly man who runs a mini market in the St. Therese area said financial concerns played a big role in whether people were deciding to move out of the suburbs or stay.

“Look around you and you notice that people who can afford to move out did so or are planning to do so,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. “Others who cannot afford to move out have remained. No one wants to leave, but why wouldn’t they if they can be safer in other areas in Beirut. We’re all targets here.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 20, 2014, on page 4.
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Story Summary
Fragile hopes that security in Beirut's southern suburbs would improve following the arrests of high-profile bombing suspects and the formation of a new government were dashed Wednesday, prompting more and more residents to consider seeking refuge elsewhere.

Two suicide bombers struck the Beirut suburb of Bir Hasan during morning rush hour, killing six others and wounded scores more.

For one family that has spent the last 25 years in the suburbs, leaving home was a difficult decision.

Many residents who spoke to The Daily Star remained defiant, choosing to stay in the suburbs despite the ever-present threat of attack.

Farah Sleem, who lives in Mreijeh, said her family intended to live and die in the suburbs and would not consider leaving under any circumstances.

An elderly man who runs a mini market in the St. Therese area said financial concerns played a big role in whether people were deciding to move out of the suburbs or stay.
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