HARET HREIK, Lebanon: Mohammad Meqdad was putting the final touches on the cafe he was planning to inaugurate in Beirut’s southern suburb of Haret Hreik this week. A flash and large bang changed all that. The car bomb that hit the area Thursday killed at least five civilians, wounded 75 and inflicted heavy damage on Meqdad’s cafe and nearby shops and buildings.
“We had already laid the final touches on the decor of the cafe, which we were planning to inaugurate Sunday,” he told The Daily Star.
“But now we have to start again from the very beginning,” he explained, pointing at the shattered facade of his cafe. The blast also cracked the walls of the shop.
“The explosion hit the area shortly after I left the cafe on my motorcycle, it was very loud, that was horrible,” Meqdad said.
Thursday’s attack is the third explosion to target Beirut’s southern suburbs, whose residents are largely Hezbollah supporters, since July.
A twin suicide bombing also struck the Iranian Embassy in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan in November. Thursday’s attack comes less than a week after former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Downtown Beirut.
But Meqdad said he planned on inaugurating his cafe as soon as possible, saying he was not deterred by such attacks. “Now I hope that we will be able to open the cafe on Jan. 10 rather than Jan. 5,” he added.
Meqdad said he wouldn’t wait for the state to pay him compensation, but would start work immediately.
“All the losses we incurred are nothing. Thank God no one suffered harm, the cafe was full of workers when the explosion took place.”
Meqdad added that he felt safe now, as he believed the perpetrators wouldn’t target the same area twice.
The explosion destroyed at least six cars, setting many ablaze and damaging several others. The blast also damaged the facades of six buildings and shattered the glass of many shops, with debris littering the streets.
Panicked, screaming people were seen scrambling to leave the area, while others stepped into the explosion site to help pull out the casualties. Many came to the explosion site to check on relatives living in the area or else were just wandering through, adding to the chaos at the scene. Hezbollah gunmen fired into the air several times to disperse people.
Ambulances and fire trucks with sirens blazing rushed to the scene as rescue teams and personnel bundled the bodies of victims, some caked with blood, into vehicles and attended to the survivors.
Army personnel, along with young, bearded Hezbollah members carrying machine guns, blocked the roads leading to the site, preventing some journalists from entering and allowing only ambulances in.
“I suddenly fell on the floor ... Civil Defense teams evacuated us, we were about to suffocate from the smoke that filled the place,” a woman said in a trembling voice, unable to catch her breath.
“I know nothing about my brother’s family,” she yelled in fear, refusing to be identified.
The woman’s brother had been on the 10th floor of a building near where the explosion occurred, while she had been paying her condolences on the third floor below.
“I would have seen them if they were evacuated, they have a kid with them,” she added.
“There is another rigged car,” someone in the crowd yelled suddenly, prompting dozens of frightened people to try to leave the site of the explosion.
Sitting on a sidewalk near the blast site was Mohammad, his sister and his niece, all desperate for news about his nephew, who had been missing since the explosion.
“He went to Al-Jawad restaurant when the blast rocked the area and we know nothing about him so far,” Mohammad said as the other two spoke frantically on their mobile phones. The blast occurred very close to the restaurant.
Mohammad said the March 14 coalition was fully responsible for the attack, saying it was either directly involved or had engaged in incitement which led to such an act.
“This is the uprising that Fouad Siniora has called for,” he said, referring to a speech that the former prime minister made during the funeral of Shatah Sunday, in which he vowed the March 14 coalition would liberate Lebanon from the occupation of Hezbollah’s “illegitimate arms.”
“Who benefits from all this destruction?” Mohammad asked. “Let March 14 officials answer us.”
The blast also heavily damaged Mohammad’s computer shop.
Asked whether he would consider moving his shop to another place, Mohammad replied: “Never.”
“We will only leave the suburbs to be buried,” his sister said.
“Nothing will make us tremble,” his niece added.
“We are making all these sacrifices for the sake of the resistance.”
Mohammad said he did not care about the materialistic damage to his shop. “All what we care about is that the young men of the resistance remain safe and sound.”
But clearly not everyone agreed, with many seen packing their luggage and leaving the area.
“Thank God none of my family members was harmed. But our apartment was severely damaged,” a woman leaving the area said as she clutched a bag.
Many angry young men gathered at the site of the explosion, chanting slogans that praised Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad who is revered by Muslims, particularly Shiites.
Hezbollah and other groups are currently defending the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in a Damascus suburb against attacks by Syrian rebels.
The attacks against predominantly Hezbollah-controlled areas have intensified after the party announced last year that it was fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. Syrian opposition groups have repeatedly threatened to attack Hezbollah’s strongholds and supporters in retaliation for its involvement in Syria.