BEIRUT: I must thank “divine intervention” for saving my life. Had it not been for “divine intervention,” today I would have been one of the victims killed in Wednesday’s twin suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Cultural Center in the Bir Hasan neighborhood south of Beirut.
Being a resident of the Haret Hreik neighborhood in the southern suburbs for nearly 20 years, I wake up every morning at around 6 a.m. to drive my son to his school in the Hamra area and my two daughters to the Lebanese American University.
After dropping the kids off, I usually return home by driving through the Ras al-Nabaa district up to the airport road where I swerve right near the Sahel Hospital to continue the trip to Haret Hreik.
But Wednesday I had to take a different road on the way back home because I had to refill an empty butane gas container from a gas company located just behind the Iranian Embassy complex in the Ouzai area.
It was 9:05 a.m. and there were a few customers at the gas company. It took five minutes to refill my gas container. After leaving the gas company, I had to drive slowly because of a Lebanese Army checkpoint set up a few meters ahead.
After the Army checkpoint, the two-lane traffic came to a halt apparently because troops were searching vehicles entering the southern suburbs or approaching the Iranian Embassy complex located nearby.
It was 9:15 a.m. and the road to the left leading to the roundabout near the Iranian Cultural Center was completely empty. So I drove quickly, passing by an Army barracks and the European Exhibition Center before reaching the roundabout which is often jammed with vehicles coming from different directions.
I had to stop for at least five minutes at the roundabout before the traffic eased a bit, allowing me to veer right near a palace belonging to former Lebanese Prime Minister Riad al-Solh, rather than taking the congested road leading to the Kuwaiti Embassy to go to Haret Hreik.
It was after 9:20 a.m. when the traffic eased, prompting me to drive faster, heading toward the airport bridge. Again, traffic was jammed from four directions at the roundabout under the airport bridge.
I was about 20 meters from the airport bridge roundabout when I heard a loud explosion at around 9:25 a.m. that shook my SUV as well as a nearby glass building where I had to stop, waiting for the traffic to move.
Having gone through the previous deadly car bombings and suicide attacks that struck Haret Hreik in the past few months, I immediately realized this was another explosion in the latest of attacks targeting areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
The first thing I did was I tried to remain calm and composed. After checking that my vehicle was not hit by shrapnel and that no glass from the nearby building fell on me, the first thing that came to mind was to call colleagues at The Daily Star to inform them of the explosion.
But cellphone lines were dead, as often happens during such situations.
The loud din of the twin explosions created panic among the motorists, who began honking their vehicles, including vans packed with passengers heading to work during the morning rush hour.
Within minutes, troops from a nearby Army checkpoint rushed to the blast site in five vehicles, while military police and General Security officers in the area blocked the road toward the Sahel Hospital to clear the way for ambulances carrying people wounded in the twin bombings.
After being cleared by the Army checkpoint near the airport bridge, I drove home. The main street in Haret Hreik, notorious for its bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, was nearly deserted, reminding me of the horrible scene when Israeli warplanes pounded the southern suburbs during the 2006 war.
My wife was in a state of shock because she knew I would be driving past the roundabout near the Iranian Cultural Center. She was changing TV channels to follow up on the news of the attacks. She said she had tried to call me but could not get through.
“It’s probably the same divine intervention that prevented a massacre of orphans at the nearby Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya that saved you,” my wife remarked.
Being a believer in God, that incident made me a much stronger believer in divine intervention.
The kids, who experienced previous bombings in Haret Hreik, were stunned when I told them it was divine intervention that saved my life.
“Daddy, until when shall we continue to pay the price of the war in Syria?” quipped my 17-year-old son, Ali, in Grade 11.
Reem, my 20-year-old daughter, who is studying education at LAU, also appeared to believe in acts of God. “Personally, I believe that a few minutes or even seconds can change or kill one’s life. When the bombing happens, a miracle or an act of God can intervene to save one’s life. Luckily, God protected you this time. I hope God’s protection will persist at least until the war in Syria is over,” she remarked.
“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to that extraordinary Dad that I would wholeheartedly dedicate my life to, and [am] ready to do whatever it takes not to lose him,” she added. “From the bottom of my heart, I wouldn’t imagine losing him, but that for you my heart has no bottom.”