Tag Archives: Achrafieh
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Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

21 Oct

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

By Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Oct 21 2012 (IPS) – The assassination of Lebanon’s top security official on Friday not only ravaged a quiet Beirut neighbourhood but also shattered the precarious sense of security many Lebanese have been desperately clinging to in recent months.

Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services, was killed by a massive car bomb in which three others died and 100 were injured. He had just returned from Paris, to where he had moved his family amid concerns that he was being targeted for assassination.

“We suffered so much in the civil war and those memories are all coming back now,” said Anissa Bushrush, a resident of a nearby street. “People know each other in this neighbourhood but now I feel there is no safe place left. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so terrified.”

The assassination occurred in a densely populated side street in Beirut’s predominantly Christian Achrafieh neighbourhood. Striking just before rush hour, it caused massive damage, tearing off balconies, smashing windows and sending a tower of black smoke high into the air.

Hassan was considered a controversial figure because of his close personal affiliation to Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former billionaire prime minister assassinated in 2005.

His killing is “a big loss for the security of Lebanon,” Walid Moubarak, director of the Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation at the Lebanese American University told IPS. Hassan had been responsible for uncovering significant security breaches in Lebanon, including Al-Qaeda, Israeli and Syrian operatives.

He was an investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s killers and which eventually blamed Syrian and Hizbullah agents. Earlier this year, Hassan had played a major role in the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha for plotting terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was a major obstacle for many groups inside and outside of Lebanon,” said Moubarak. “His death means they can now act in Lebanon much more freely. I hope Lebanon’s political leaders are conscientious enough to stay united.” Any divisions would only aid further violence, he said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Hassan’s assassination, the first in four years, but many Lebanese blame Syria. There were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations between 2005 and 2008, all targeting outspoken critics of the Syrian regime. Tensions between the two countries have reached a critical point in recent months as political violence in Syria has begun to spill over the border.

“I’m divorced and I have a ten-year-old son to support. I’ve worked so hard to provide for us over the last few years and now I’ve lost everything,” wept Nancy Joseph Maineh, whose ground floor home was just yards from the site of the attack.

Carrying bags of her belongings away from her destroyed apartment, Maineh said she had “no idea” what the future would hold for her or the Lebanese people.

In a statement following the attack, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected his country’s involvement, condemning the killing as  “unjustifiable” and “cowardly.”

Analysts say the perpetrators had infiltrated Lebanon’s security services. “It’s very clear that there was circulation of information from inside our institutions to the people responsible for Hassan’s killing,” said Fadia Kiwan, professor of political science at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut. “Somebody saw his name on the manifest at the airport and informed his killers.”

Kiwan suggested Hassan’s demise heralded the beginning of another dark chapter of political violence in Lebanon. “I don’t wish to disseminate pessimism but we have to be realistic. These people are not playing games, they greet each other with death.”

In the wake of the killing, gunmen with scarves around their faces have taken to the streets across Lebanon, blocking roads with burning tires and opening fire at passing cars.

“It’s a predictable pattern that we often see in reaction to political events here,” Timor Goksel, former professor of conflict management at the American University of Beirut and senior advisor to UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL told IPS. “Some people take this as an opportunity to vent their anger about whatever they’re angry about in life. I don’t think it will escalate.”

Others, however, were less optimistic. One man was on his way back from Beirut airport early Saturday morning when his car was stopped at a makeshift checkpoint. After showing the men his identity papers and agreeing to a car search, Rabih Baaklini was driving off when four masked gunmen opened fire. His car was hit by 16 bullets.

“I’m not politically active, I don’t support any political party and I’ve never voted,” Baaklini said. “If I can get shot at, then anybody in Lebanon can get shot at. Life is so cheap here.”

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Photos of massive explosion in Beirut’s Sassine Square

19 Oct

Massive car bomb in Beirut’s Sassine Square

A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@svhoorn)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@svhoorn)

A car burns at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)

(Reuters) – A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least two people and wounding 46, witnesses and security sources said.

It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon’s divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.

The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Assad Christian Phalange Party is located.

Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. It occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school.

The security source confirmed two dead. At least 46 people were wounded, another security source said.

Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground.

Residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances.

Security forces blanketed the area.

The war in neighboring Syria, which has killed 30,000 people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam.

Tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites has been rumbling in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but reignited after the Syria conflict erupted.

It reached its peak when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, was killed in 2005. Hariri supporters accused Syria and then Hezbollah of killing him – a charge they both deny. An international tribunal accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder.

Hezbollah’s political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad’s forces – have warned that its involvement in Syria could ignite sectarian tension of the civil war.

The last bombing in Beirut was in 2008 when three people were killed in an explosion which damaged a U.S. diplomatic car.

However fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.

Story by REUTERS- Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Samia Nakhoul

Photos originally posted to http://rt.com/news/beirut-lebanon-explosion-police-797/ and http://www.rightnow.io/breaking-news/beirut-downtown_bn_1350647780442.html

In Lebanon’s Christian district, March 14 holds the cards

8 Jun

BEIRUT: Constituents in  Beirut I, a predominantly Christian district, crowded into polling stations on Sunday to elect five candidates to join the country’s next parliament. As The Daily Star went to press Sunday night, exit polls showed the March 14 coalition winning a clean sweep in the district, with voter turnout estimated at 44 percent.

Twenty candidates, ten of whom were Independents, battled for the seats covering the areas of Achrafieh, Rmeil and Saifi. The March 14 list of Nayla Tueni (Orthodox), Serge Torsarkissian (Armenian Catholic), Jean Ogassapian (Armenian Orthodox), Michel Pharaoun (Catholic) and Nadim Gemayel (Maronite), stood against Issam Abu Jamra (Orthodox), Vreij Sabounjian (Armenian Orthodox), Gregoire Kaloust (Armenian Catholic), Nicholas Sehnaoui (Catholic) and Massoud Al-Ashkar (Maronite) of the March 8 coalition. Two of the district’s seats will go to Armenian candidates, with one each going to Orthodox, Maronite and Catholic candidates.

Supporters of the Armenian Tashnag party, which is allied with March 8, took to the polls in particular force in the early morning hours, with convoys of cars bearing the party emblem and Armenian flag dropping off entire families outside polling stations. According to exit polls, 31,500 people in Beirut I voted, among them 6,700 Armenians.

Hagob Norunzayan, 42, got up early to vote for the March 8 ticket. The Armenians were coming “back from all over the world just to vote,” he said, denying allegations that they received cash to vote.

Hagob Norunzayan, 42, got up early to vote for the March 8 ticket. The Armenians were coming “back from all over the world just to vote,” he said, denying allegations that they received cash to vote.

“We want to live in a strong Lebanon. We will win,” he added optimistically.

Former US President Jimmy Carter was in Achrafieh Sunday to observe the voting.

Talking to reporters at the Zahrat al-Ihsan School polling station, Carter said he hoped Lebanon’s parties and foreign supporters would accept the election results.

“I don’t have any concerns over the conduct of the elections,” he said. “I have concerns over the acceptance of the results by all the major parties.”

Nadim Gemayel of the Christian Phalange party was seen midday touring the Rmeil II polling station in Achrafieh. “We saw a great evolution among the people,” he said of his electoral campaign. “We succeeded in making people vote against the weapons of Hizbullah. I am confident about my list: 5-0.”

Former LBC journalist May Chidiac cast her vote in Achrafieh’s Rmeil I polling station. Chidiac survived a 2005 assassination attempt that many blamed on pro-Syrian groups. She called Christian voters who support “pro-Syrian” and “pro-Iranian” candidates “misled.”

Hizbullah poster: My land is worth more than gold

Hizbullah poster: My land is worth more than gold

Constituents were “voting for their identity …We want a free, independent Lebanon,” she said. “Lebanon is a mixture of things, but we want it to be a pro-Occidental country.”

March 14 candidate Nayla Tueni later made an appearance at the same polling station, dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. The 26-year-old Tueni, deputy general director of Lebanon’s popular daily An-Nahar and the daughter of assassinated MP and journalist Gebran Tueni, has been called inexperienced by rivals. “It’s amazing people came so numerous,” she told The Daily Star in reference to the high turnout. “They want a change.”

At a number of polling stations, old men and women cast their ballots after being carried up several flights of stairs by relatives or able-bodied onlookers.

The Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union sent a complaint to the Interior Ministry lamenting the difficulties disabled people faced in accessing polling stations, often situated on the second or third floors.

Several March 14 and March 8 supporters interviewed at different polling stations said that they were voting to define Lebanon’s relations with the international community.

“Foreign policy is the most important element of this election,” said a 31-year-old March 14 supporter who did not wished to be identified.

“I believe in their foreign policy, they’re going to deal with how outside powers will deal with Lebanon,” he said of the rival coalitions.

Sandy T., 21, meanwhile said Aoun’s alliance with Hizbullah had prevented further sectarian violence in the country. “If he hadn’t made the alliance, there would be big problems between the different religions,” she said.

“We believe in what he and [Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan] Nasrallah say, and in what they can do to change Lebanon,” she added.

After voting, partisans sought refuge from Sunday’s blistering heat, eating sandwiches and chocolate bars packed in special lunchboxes bearing the logos of their preferred political party.

Although polling in Beirut I was largely peaceful, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) broke up a fight in the early afternoon at the Ali Abi Taleb High School polling station, LBC Television reported.

The high school was the only polling station for the constituency’s minority Sunni and Shiite residents.

An 85-year-old male voter reportedly died of a heart attack before casting his ballot.

According to OTV, four people were taken to hospital after fainting in the highly congested polling stations of the Zahret al-Ihsan and Tabaris schools.

Lebanese Armed Forces troops patrolled Achrafieh’s Sassine Square and detained a number of individuals after clashes broke out over party flags Sunday evening.

Despite the minor skirmishes, an election observer who wished to remain anonymous said the one-day elections had been “relatively tranquil.”

The observer nevertheless pointed to several violations, including several senior political figures and candidates campaigning inside the polling stations, defying a rule that they must stay at least 75 meters away from the polls.

“They were going around the polling station to try to rally the troops, shaking hands,” the observer said, adding that the incident was reported to the Interior Ministry.

Poor crowd control and incidences of intimidation within polling stations in Beirut I also occurred, said the observer.

Lebanon’s Elections

7 Jun
Sometimes things need no explanation

Sometimes things need no explanation

 

A building still bearing the scars of Lebanon's 1975-1990 Civil War

A building still bearing the scars of Lebanon's 1975-1990 Civil War

Armenian poster by the March 14 coalition

Armenian poster by the March 14 coalition

Outside a polling booth
Outside a polling booth
Two Armenian supporters of the Tashnag party, which is allied to the Hizbullah-led March 8 opposition

Two Armenian supporters of the Tashnag party, which is allied to the Hizbullah-led March 8 coalition

7 Jun
Eager to vote for the status quo
Eager to vote for the status quo
At the polling station

At the polling station

Billboards in Achrafieh's Sassine Sqaure promoting March 14 candidates

Billboards in Achrafieh's Sassine Sqaure promoting March 14 candidates

Supporter of Michel Aoun's FPM

Supporter of Michel Aoun's FPM

stationMarch 14 supporters hand out lunchboxes bearing the images of the coalition's candidates, notably an image of Nadim Gemayel highly reminiscent of civil war images of his assassinated father.
March 14 supporters hand out lunchboxes bearing the images of the coalition’s candidates, notably an image of Nadim Gemayel highly reminiscent of civil war images of his assassinated father.