Hezbollah stronghold defiant after car bomb

Explosion in southern Beirut suburb injures dozens, but fails to drive locals from Shia movement.

    Hezbollah stronghold defiant after car bomb
    The car bomb hit the Shia neighbourhood of Bir el Abed, a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut's Dahyeh suburb [Reuters]

    Beirut, Lebanon - Life was returning to normal in Dahyeh's Bir el Abed neighbourhood even before the dust settled and while shards of glass were still being swept away. The huge car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs had left as many as 53 people wounded and caused extensive material damage, but no-one had been killed in the explosion.
    Residents in the predominantly Shia district, considered a Hezbollah stronghold, said the attack was meant to "send a message" to locals: that they should distance themselves from the Lebanese Shia movement.
    "This won't happen, we will support them even more now," said Haydar Fadlallah, who owns the shop next to the blast site.
    Saying the attack had not come as a surprise, he told Al Jazeera: "We are expecting more, and they do not make us afraid. We have been through worse."

    Car bomb rocks Beirut suburb

    Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said the attack was designed to target the whole neighbourhood.
    "They did it the day before Ramadan, in the middle of the morning, when the streets would be full," he told Al Jazeera.
    "Will we stop supporting Hezbollah now? No, look at all the posters of Hassan Nasrallah and flags waving high."
    Role in Syria
    While some media reports and officials linked Tuesday's attack to Hezbollah's role in Syria, where the armed movement is supporting President Bashar al Assad's troops, Fadlallah disagreed. Hezbollah was targeted long before the group's involvement in Syria's war, he said.
    "We've been facing these attacks for a long time," he said. "People are using Syria as an excuse."
    Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political analyst and Hezbollah expert, said the Dahyeh explosion was meant to put further pressure on Hezbollah's supporters.
    "This attack was to terrorise the population and inflict the most damage possible, pushing people away from Hezbollah," she told Al Jazeera.
    "The only two terrorist attacks which have taken place have indeed appeared to be reactions to Hezbollah's role in Syria," she told Al Jazeera, referring both to Tuesday's car bomb, and a rocket attack at the end of May, in which several were injured in Dahyeh's Chiyah neighbourhood.
    "But there have been several attacks on [other] Hezbollah areas, such as in the Bekaa, which were happening before Hezbollah's involvement [in Syria]," she added.
    Hermel, an area in the Bekaa, has, for several months, witnessed frequent rocket attacks believed to be launched by the armed Syrian opposition just acros their border.
    "From now on, Hezbollah will definitely up the security in the area," said Saad-Ghorayeb. "While it is impossible to monitor every person who goes in and out of Dahyeh, they will be much more vigilant."
    Tuesday's explosion shook the country, which was still recovering from the two-day bloody battle in the southern city of Sidon, after armed supporters of Ahmed Assir, a firebrand Sunni cleric, killed three soldiers at an army check point.
    In the aftermath of Sidon's battle, which left 18 soldiers and several fighters dead, some officials accused Hezbollah of fighting alongside the Lebanese army against Assir, further inflaming sectarian tensions. Many Sunnis in Lebanon believe Hezbollah is directly leading a campaign against their community.
    Shortly following the Bir el Abed explosion, local television reports purported to show celebratory gunshots being fired in some neighbourhoods in the northern city of Tripoli, a Sunni-dominated area.
    'Exercising restraint'
    Meanwhile, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar visited Tuesday's blast site. "Dahyeh has always been under threat, and a political and security target, which has been translated now in this context," he said.
    The attack on Bir el Abed followed political and sectarian threats to the area, he added.
    "Those who know the sons of Dahyeh will know there is now more solidarity under these tests and trials."
    But tensions remained high, and neared breaking point when Marwan Charbel, caretaker minister of interior, visited the site of the explosion.
    Several residents pelted him with water bottles, saying the state had failed to protect them, and accusing him of being "the protector of Assir".
    "Right now, Hezbollah is exercising maximum restraint because it doesn't want to ignite sectarian tensions, but the [Shia] street is really angry," said Saad-Ghorayeb.
    Several political figures and analysts among the March 14 coalition, the political camp which opposes Hezbollah, have accused the group and its supporters of increasing the political and sectarian rhetoric.
    Khalil Gebara, a political analyst and university lecturer, told Al Jazeera that he was "shocked" by Hezbollah's rhetoric in the aftermath of Tuesday's explosion.
    "In these kinds of moments, political parties are supposed to calm the street and ensure unity and national cohesion," he said.
    "What I've felt from the tone of Hezbollah is that it is currently playing the blame game. They are not being reconciliatory, and they are being defiant."
    Hezbollah should have done more to prevent the interior minister being targeted by the mob at the bomb site, said Gebara. Hezbollah members had, however, reportedly shot in the air to disperse protesters surrounding the minister.
    "This is an act of defiance," said Gebara. "They should have more ability to control the crowds."
    Meanwhile, MP Hadi Hobeish, reading a statement by the Future Movement - the largest member of the March 14 alliance - said it was "surprised by certain calls from the location of the explosion that only serve to spread discord".
    "We're shocked by the rhetoric at the scene," he told a press conference on Tuesday evening.
    As an investigation into the bombing gets underway, political and security officials across the country have called for an easing of sectarian rhetoric, agreeing that flaring violence can only cause further discord between already tense communities.

    Follow Nour Samaha on Twitter: @Nour_Samaha

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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