Lebanon News

Ashrafieh residents begin rebuilding

BEIRUT: Shaken Ashrafieh residents, skeptical of government promises of assistance, began repairing their homes and shops this weekend after the damage caused by Friday’s blast killing Lebanon’s top intelligence official. The car bomb that exploded Friday assassinating ISF Information Branch Chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan also killed at least two others and wounded more than 100 people.

Information regarding the others killed by the explosion was still emerging Sunday, but one of the victims was identified as Georgette Sarkissian. Sarkissian, 42, was the mother of two and worked in the BEMO Bank office that was hit by the explosion.

Four patients remained at Hotel Dieu Sunday of the 38 that had been treated at the hospital. Two of the patients were in stable condition and two were still in intensive care – a woman with a severe eye injury and a Syrian man.

Staff at St. George Hospital said they treated 19 injured in the blast. All but one had been discharged by Sunday.

Laure Gergi Khoury, 80, remained in St. George hospital, attended to by her sister, Renee. The two live together in a building very close to the site of the explosion.

“I was at home when the explosion went off, we [my sister and I] made our way through rooms until we reached the ambulance,” said Laure, who was being treated for head injuries.

“Shards of glass hit my head and I was bleeding,” she said. “I am fine now but still feeling dizzy.”

Laure, who is set to leave the hospital Monday, expressed anger over the trauma of Friday’s bomb.

“Let these politicians take care of their people ... they sit [safe] at home and we suffer,” she said.

Ibrahim Monzer street, the site of the explosion, was blocked by police Sunday. Due to the ongoing investigation, only residents whose homes were within the cordoned area were able to enter once registered with police.

Gebran Abi Aad, 55, stood with family members at the edge of the street after being denied entry, even though it is the most direct route to his home.

“When the bomb exploded there was glass breaking and it felt like an earthquake,” said Aad, whose apartment is one street down from the center of the explosion and suffered extensive damage.

“We hope that the state will pay compensation because we are poor people and we cannot afford it,” said the father of five.

After an emergency Cabinet meeting Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked the Higher Relief Committee to fully compensate those whose homes and businesses had suffered damage in the Ashrafieh bombing.

The HRC said that assessments will commence Monday, but frustrated residents have already started their own repairs, expressing doubt that the government would follow through.

Yasmina Jreissati, whose building backs onto Ibrahim Monzer Street, was busy replacing all of the windows in her apartment.

She decided to go ahead with repairs before hearing from the HRC.

“I don’t want to be cynical but I’m not expecting anything,” she said, explaining that her home also serves as an office for her and her husband.

She said that living in Lebanon, one never thinks that an event like this is impossible, but “you postpone it in your head, you don’t think it will happen where you live.”

In an adjacent building, also backing onto the site of the car bomb, resident Salah Matar sat in his damaged apartment where he lives with his wife, mother-in-law and 1-year-old daughter.

As with many other neighborhood residents interviewed by The Daily Star, he had no idea that a senior intelligence officer had a safe house in the area.

“No one knew Wissam al-Hasan was living here. He was very low profile,” Matar said. “But we found out in an awful way.”

The crater caused by Friday’s car bomb, now partially covered by a tarp, is visible from the rooftop of Matar’s building. Police officers were still roaming the site littered with the carcasses of burnt cars Sunday evening.

The buildings immediately next to the explosion had been gutted. One was missing massive chunks of concrete and had cracks running from the ground floor up to the roof.

Blown out window frames and collapsed roofs revealed scenes of domestic disarray. Overturned washing machines, bedroom sets and kitchen cabinets blasted onto the floor were all covered in a layer of shattered glass.

George Osta, another resident of the area, said he is waiting for the HRC to assess the damage in his apartment.

“The doors were blown off, glass was completely shattered and shutters were destroyed, everything is ruined in the house,” said Osta, who has lived in the same apartment for 40 years.

“It will be very hard if they do not help us ... the cost [of repairing] is at least $10,000,” he estimated, adding that because he lives on the first floor, for the moment “it is as if we are sleeping outside [on the street], with no glass and shutters.”

“We will compensate for all the damage to the apartments and shops. We will help people with accommodations until they can move back into their homes,” HRC operations coordinator Elie Khoury said.

Until assessments have been conducted, he could not estimate how much money the HRC will be able to spend on compensation or when repairs will begin.

“We have no idea yet about the extent of the damage. We estimate that about 20–30 buildings were affected.”

To fill the gap in the meantime, citizens have banded together to collect donations, raise money and provide shelter for their neighbors.

Tinia Nassif, 25, created the Facebook group “Ashrafieh for all” Saturday, a nonpartisan, youth initiative simply “looking to help the people of Ashrafieh out” in the aftermath of Friday’s bomb.

By Sunday evening, the group had more than 2,250 members, was working on establishing the victims’ needs, and was accepting donations of food, clothes and blankets at the Naswiya Cafe in Mar Mikhael.

Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui and Ziad Abs, a Free Patriotic Movement member from Ashrafieh, have reserved and personally paid for 35-40 hotel rooms at the area’s Hotel Alexandre and the Padova Hotel in Sin al-Fil for victims who cannot yet return to their homes.

“We really felt the urgency of this matter,” Abs told The Daily Star, expressing hope that within the week the government system will mobilize to help these individuals.

Other private citizens have offered to shelter families in their own homes via Twitter and Facebook. The Club of Music at St. Joseph University, in collaboration with the Focalare Movement, has organized a concert Oct. 25 at the USJ-Mathaf CIS campus to raise money for those displaced by the explosion.

Despite the destruction just 200 meters down the road, Sassine Square was surprisingly busy with people filling the patios of cafes.

Standing with his wife and three of his five children, Aad looked out at the square and expressed his determination to move past the havoc wreaked just days before.

Having lived through Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War, Aad said he would not let this incident drive him from the country he loves.

“We don’t want to leave this country,” the Ashrafieh resident said. “We will stay here forever.”

“With everything that happens we stay.” – Additional reporting by Niamh Fleming-Farrell

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2012, on page 4.




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