The charred buildings in the Al-Roueiss neighborhood of Dahiyeh have been cleared out, but the destruction is striking. The structure most damaged by the blast is an eight-floor apartment building, with now-crumbling balconies and a completely blackened façade. Along the street lie cars flipped on their sides, also burned and crushed, as Lebanese Army soldiers, police officers, and Hezbollah security forces mill around the residential neighborhood.
The buildings were cordoned off by metal barricades now erected throughout the neighborhood. Manning these makeshift checkpoints were members of “Emergency Committees” wearing the traditional neon-yellow Hezbollah arm bands – they were preventing civilians from approaching the blast site. NOW spoke with residents of the damaged buildings who were waiting alongside the barricades to be let into their homes.
Hassan Baraket, a 68-year old resident of Al-Roueiss, was hoping to retrieve his passport and other important documents from his destroyed apartment. When asked whether he was afraid of additional bombings, he shrugged almost nonchalantly and said, “Only God knows if there will be more explosions. We’re not afraid.”
Two older women who also lived in the damaged buildings were similarly unperturbed as they waited patiently. They casually explained that for them, death by explosion or by car accident were one and the same; the comparison seemed to demonstrate their flat acceptance of the bomb as a new reality in the Dahiyeh. Hassan Qassem, who lives on the top floor of the building hit hardest, rejected NOW’s suggestion of fear and said that “this neighborhood has been destroyed a dozen times, and if they destroy it again then we will rebuild again.”
The unfazed atmosphere in the Al-Roueiss neighborhood only one day after the explosion was reminiscent of the reactions after the July 9 bombing, which went off in the Bir al-Abed neighborhood of Dahiyeh. Thursday’s bomb weighed in at 70kg, twice as large as the July bomb, and the death toll so far lies at 24. Still, residents seem to be staunchly unafraid, indicating a readiness to deal with any additional violence.
Qassem told NOW that the community’s resilience came from Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. Alongside exclamations of perseverance, Qassem gave the impression that the bomb’s effect would bring the community together in support of Hezbollah and its leaders.
Imad Salamey, a political science professor at LAU, agreed. “Given the context of the struggle, which is sectarian, people don’t have many options besides rallying around their sects and communities,” Salamey told NOW. “It’s really difficult to see people being critical of the [party] leadership [at this time].”
Salamey anticipated that Hezbollah would use the explosion to justify their intervention in Syria. “I expect Nasrallah to play the role of the victim,” he said. “Hezbollah will most probably present this as an attack against the Shiites… and Nasrallah will play the role of someone in a position of defending himself and his community, and justify why he has gone to Syria.”
All the bystanders NOW spoke with were quick to blame Israel, frequently citing it as “the biggest enemy.” Israel has denied involvement in the attack, while a Syrian rebel group calling itself “Companies of A’isha, Mother of the Believers,” claimed responsibility. Qassem hinted at the group’s involvement but refrained from accusing Syrian rebel groups directly, preferring to call the perpetrators “extremists who are not human.” Alluding to an infamous video of a Syrian rebel commander allegedly eating a regime soldier’s heart, he asked, “Does a man who eats a heart have problems killing innocent people? They rape in the name of their so-called revolution.”
Speculations still abound in the neighborhood, with various versions of the explosion being relayed matter-of-factly among the citizens: one man declares that the suicide bomber didn’t even stop his vehicle before exploding it, while others say that he had actually gotten out of the car. Another popular theory says that the bomb was meant to explode at the Martyrs’ Complex, which lies a few blocks from where the bomb went off yesterday evening.
Contrasting the casual nature of the conversation at the blast site, Salamey expressed unease. “We are experiencing a heightened level of sectarian polarization,” he said. Areas of tension, previously in Sunni-majority locations, are now moving to Shiite areas. Violence is both escalating and is increasingly “in the open,” Salamey added.
Unlike many of the neighborhood’s residents, Salamey anticipates additional bombings and Hezbollah increasing its involvement in Syria. He is unconvinced that yesterday’s explosion would be swept under the rug so easily.
“Expect more sectarian warfare.”
Matt Nash contributed reporting.
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