TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Al-Taqwa Mosque in the northern city of Tripoli reopened its doors to crowds of worshippers Friday, after months of renovation to repair the damage suffered by a bombing last August.
The mosque was packed Friday with some 1,300 worshipers, and another 1,000 prayed outside, amid heavy security deployment by the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army.
Mosque guards spread mats outside to accommodate the large turnout of worshippers.
At least 42 people were killed and more than 400 wounded when twin car bombs hit Al-Taqwa Mosque at the Abu Ali roundabout and the nearby Al-Salam Mosque on Aug. 23, 2013. The mosque suffered extensive damage as a result of the blast. Officials from the Tripoli-based pro-Syrian Arab Democratic Party were charged with the attack.
Al-Salam mosque will be reopened on June 13.
The former head of the Association of Muslim Scholars Sheikh Salem Rafei led the Friday prayers in the presence of several officials including Tripoli Mayor Nader Ghazal.
In his sermon, Rafei called on Lebanese not to be prejudiced against Syrians in the country, saying that only tens of thousands of Syrians voted for President Bashar Assad at the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon, while over a million boycotted the event.
“Yesterday, they came out in thousands to show that many support Bashar Assad, but the calculation is simple and points out that tens of thousands of those who voted cannot be compared with the Syrian refugees whose numbers exceed a million and a half and who fled the criminal regime,” he said.
Tens of thousands of Syrians flooded the main thoroughfare leading to their embassy in Yarze to cast their ballots in the presidential election Wednesday.
The unexpectedly high turnout prompted the embassy to keep polls open until midnight the next day.
Many voters waved the Syrian government’s double-starred flag and flaunted posters and T-shirts of Assad along the congested roads.
Rafei said Assad’s supporters should return to areas in Syria controlled by the regime, adding that the majority of the voters were coerced by the government to cast ballots.
The sheikh also said that sermons delivered at the Tripoli mosques were scaring Assad, prompting him to order the explosions. The sheikh pondered why the perpetrators were yet to be arrested.
Military investigative judge Riad Abu Ghayda requested the death penalty earlier this month for eight Lebanese nationals as well as Syrian Intelligence officer Capt. Mohammad Ali and Khodr al-Ayrouni, also a Syrian national, due to their ties to the bombings.
“Hezbollah is killing the Syrian people under the pretext of protecting the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab,” Rafei continued, referring to the party’s fight alongside Assad’s forces in the neighboring conflict.
“If Sayyida Zeinab was alive, she would have disowned it [the party] and the Syrian regime; if Sayyida Zeinab was alive, she would have disowned the killers and those who kill Muslims with barrel bombs and chemical weapons,” he added.
Hezbollah argues that among the reasons it has taken part in the war is to protect the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab against Syrian rebel attacks. Muslims, Shiites in particular, revere Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad. The shrine is located in a Damascus suburb.
The sheikh also said that Assad and Hezbollah would be punished for their actions in the afterlife.
“The Syrian regime is upset with what happened in Tripoli and is upset that there are forums for the word of truth,” he said.
A sit-in was held after prayers outside the mosque by hundreds of Syrian refugees to protest the Syrian presidential election.
“Someone who kills women and children with barrel bombs cannot rule Syria,” the protesters shouted.
They said the election was being held under duress and intimidation.