‘Every car I see, I think: Is this it?’

BEIRUT: A handful of relatives, doctors, journalists and Hezbollah security personnel are gathered near the entrance of the Bahman Hospital when a scream breaks the relative calm.

The mother of Maria al-Jawhari, the 18-year-old girl killed near the shoe store where she worked, has just received the news.

“You’re lying, uncle,” she screams in disbelief at the older man who is trying to comfort her. “Maria, my daughter, wake up! Help me!”

“What will I tell her father? Oh God!,” she continues.

The mother sits on the curb, shocked. Another woman covers her mouth and walks a few feet away to collect herself.

“I saw her just yesterday,” the woman says with tears in her eyes, adding that she is a friend of the family who met Maria about a year ago when she started working at the store next door.

“She was very lighthearted, it was a pleasure to sit with her ... She treated everyone equally, old, young – she treated me like a friend, not an auntie,” adds the woman, who appears to be in her 50s.

“She worked in the store but she had dreams, like any girl her age. She dreamed of having a life, a future, of living in security.”

Jawhari died on the same street that was struck by a similar attack at almost exactly the same spot on Jan. 2. At the time, she posted the following to her Facebook account: “This is the third bombing I barely escaped. I don’t know if I’ll survive the fourth.”

Jawhari’s was one of four families to receive similar heartbreaking news Tuesday after a suspected suicide bomber detonated himself on Al-Arid Street in Haret Hreik.

The National News Agency identified the other three as Ahmad al-Obeidi, Ali Ibrahim Bashir, and Khodr Srour.

Pictures of a youthful Bashir were circulated on social media networks, with many mourning the loss of another in the prime of his life.

According to local media reports, when the blast occurred Obeidi was driving with his adult son, Abbas, who was injured but survived.

The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.

The Nusra Front has vowed to strike Hezbollah over the party’s role in the Syrian war, and has already targeted civilian areas under its control.

Residents near the site of Tuesday’s bombing insist there were no military or Hezbollah-affiliated targets on the street.

“They are cowards,” says Zainab, a local resident who declines to give her last name.

“If they were men they would face us, but instead they target innocent people, women and children,” she adds, surveying the aftermath of the bombing.

The ground is littered with broken glass and charred debris. The acrid smell of smoke and burned metal and plastic hangs in the air.

A pool of blood has collected on the pavement under the driver’s side of a nearby truck, its windshield and windows blown in, door ajar.

“They will not scare us,” she says. “We stand with the resistance and Sayyed Hasan [Nasrallah] till our last drop of blood.”

As uniformed men in red berets inspect the ravaged wreckage of the car thought to have carried the bomb, the Army, Red Cross, Hezbollah and police struggle to control the crowd of onlookers.

Just a few blocks away, most shops remain open, children are escorted home from school by their mothers, and many residents appear inured to the ever-present threat of car bombs.

“We’re used to it,” says Nissan, who works in a clothing store not far from the site of the blast.

Others disagree.

One woman, who would not give her name, says she thinks about leaving the southern suburbs “every day.”

“But where would I go?” she asks, looking weary. “My children are in university now, and I want them to travel. I don’t want them to stay in this country.”

“Every time I walk down the street, every car I see, I think ‘is this it?’” she says, adding that, with time, Hezbollah supporters will tire of paying the price for the party’s policies.

Among the casualties of the attack is Kamel Abdul-Aal, whose nephew Mohammad is waiting outside his room at Bahman Hospital. Abdul-Aal was on his way to work when the bomb exploded.

“When I first got the call, I was worried because we didn’t know how serious it was, whether it was his head or his leg or what,” explains Mohammad. Abdul-Aal was released a short while later after being treated for light wounds to his leg.

Ali Krayem, the head of Bahman Hospital, says the facility was fully prepared to respond and praised the Civil Defense and Red Cross for transporting the victims as quickly as possible.

“There is no message that can be delivered by blood,” he adds in condemnation of the attack.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2014, on page 2.




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