BEIRUT: The frightened children filed through the debris, some of their faces still painted with cat whiskers and clown noses, their games of tug of war and football disrupted by twin savage blasts mere meters away from their orphanage.
They walked in a line, hands gripping each other, their fragile steps a respite from the devastation all around.
Hammoudi, a 12-year-old, clutched a journalist’s microphone.
“I was getting the ball, and then something fell nearby, and I ran away,” he said.
“May God punish them and not let them in to Heaven,” he shouted. “Please God.”
A visibly distraught caretaker from the orphanage looked around in desperation, trying to round up the children. “Give me the children,” she cried.
Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya, a Sunni-run orphanage, was at roughly the halfway point between two near-simultaneous suicide bombings that devastated a crowded area in Bir Hasan, leaving shattered glass and debris in its wake, the smell of burnt rubber and petrol and the broken facades of the homes a testament to the force of the explosion.
“This is random criminality that must be brought to an end,” said Khaled Qabbani, a former education minister and secretary-general of the orphanage. “This criminality targets these orphans, who have no family.”
“The criminality has reached them in their classrooms,” he added.
A tree stood bare in the sunlight, its leaves knocked to the ground by the shock wave. It heralded the latest attack linked to the crisis in Syria, where both Iran and Hezbollah have intervened in support of embattled President Bashar Assad. The Iranian Cultural Center was meters away from the sites of the twin bombings.
But Hamida Gohar, a resident who lives close to the explosion site, was unequivocal in her condemnation.
“They are quite impatient to go to Heaven, so they will definitely go to Hell,” she said, referring to the suicide bombers.
“Who did they kill? A brother, a father, a cousin, a lover,” she said. “They don’t fear God. If they loved themselves, their mothers, their sisters, if they had honor, they would not do this.”
Gohar issued a stream of expletives and curses at the suicide bombers to underscore her point.
“God will burn you in retribution for the people you set on fire,” she said.
Images of fire were on Ahmad Touli’s mind as he held a cloth to the bleeding wound on his foot. The college student was near the Kuwait Embassy when he heard the blast and rushed to the scene to look for his sister, who was working at the European Exhibition Center, across the street from one of the car bombs. The glass lining the ground pierced his shoes.
“I heard a sound like an earthquake, or a volcanic explosion,” he said. “I got here and found body parts on the ground.”
His sister escaped unscathed, Touli said.
Abdullah Mahmoud, another resident, was a few meters from the explosion in a building where the facade shattered and concrete railings were blown apart while inside aluminum tubing broke through the ceiling. He was woken up by the explosion and the screams of his family.
“The whole house was broken,” the 18-year-old said.
But amid the scenes of destruction, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar struck a defiant tone, saying nothing would deter his party from its fight in Syria.
“ Hezbollah will not withdraw from a battle that it has decided is strategically essential,” he said.
Ammar said that battle was intended to divide the entire region, not just Syria and Lebanon, and to spread strife.
He said he hoped the newly announced “all-inclusive” Cabinet would develop a political, security and legal strategy to combat what he described as a threat to the “entity” of the Lebanese state.
Ammar equated the fight against “takfiris” with the fight against Israel, in a message to those wounded in the attack.
“As you were steadfast against the Israeli enemy, you are now standing fast once again against another enemy in league with the Israelis, and that is the takfiri terrorist enemy,” he said.
Ammar said that Iran was being targeted because of its support for the Palestinian cause.
“Whoever is targeting Iran today is targeting Palestine,” he said. “Whoever targets Hezbollah is targeting the Palestinian cause.”
He linked the bombing to a wave of terrorism in recent months that targeted nations in the region including Egypt and Iraq, and as far away as Russia.
Geopolitics could not be further from the mind of Hussein Ashmar, the chef at a local restaurant, standing in stunned silence on shards of broken glass blanketing the floor, the panes that were once there now shattered.
Ashmar was cutting meat when the blast blew out the windows, sending shards flying inside. Emergency workers evacuated one of the employees to the hospital.
“We started looking to everyone, are you OK, and are you OK?” Ashmar said as he surveyed the damage. “It was raining glass.”
The scene tells the story of lives interrupted – the half-filled cups of coffee and half-mashed chickpeas, splintered glass in the salad, a fallen door. Many families depend on this restaurant’s business to eke out a living, he said.
But Ashmar said all of Lebanon was now the target for terrorism.
“This takfiri who comes and murders people, does he abide by any faith? Does he discriminate between one and the other? What is the fault of these orphans?” he said. “Is there a religion we don’t know about that permits this?”
“These human beings walking in the street or who were going to work that were killed, what was their fault?” he said. “They have no faith and no conscience.”
But Ashmar said the latest bombing would not dampen his optimism for the country’s future.
“Even after what happened today, I am optimistic,” he said. “Otherwise I would have to give up hope and stay at home in depression. Right?”