Rebuilding Beirut
Archive image from the White March demonstration that took place in Beirut on October 25th. © White March Facebook Page
Rebuilding Beirut
Last updated: April 29, 2013

Sassine – the heartbeat of Beirut restores itself

Banner Icon Sassine Square is one of the most lively urban areas of East Beirut. But this was all turned upside down when a bomb went off a couple of weeks ago. Now, the neighborhood is fighting to get back on its feet.

October 19 wasn’t a normal day for Beirut; it was a disaster. A big car bomb attack took place in one of Sassine’s streets causing the death of 8 people, including its main target General Wissam Al-Hassan, chief of the Intelligence Bureau of the Internal Security Forces. In addition, 78 people were wounded.

The roads were blocked immediately in Beirut and security, press and intruders filled Sassine Square. The normally lively square became a miserable place, smoggy and filled with screams.

The government instantly started working with the injured families and the ones who lost their homes in the attack. The Higher Relief Committee (HRC) offered immediate relief to more than 60 families whose apartments were located on the street where the blast occurred.

The families were taken to hospitals, hotels and furnished apartments. Some local channels dedicated time to broadcast live phone calls from Lebanese people across the world offering money and shelters for these families.

Mokhtar Mrad, the head of HRC’s tent in Ashrafieh – the neighborhood where Sassine Square is located – said that the committee members’ mission was to collect the families’ papers including copies of home ownership and of identification cards.

They are now checking the documents and visiting their homes to reveal the damages. They have finished examining around 90% of the damaged houses and 10% is left in the street where the explosion took place.

“My team and I are personally working along with the HRC, we are literally knocking on every door and examining the damages to finish our job as soon as possible and help these homeless families,” a lieutenant working on the explosion case said.

The damaged stores are re-constructed on the expense of their owners’, who filed reports with all the costs to the committee. The HRC is working on a strategy to examine all the damages and when they are done they will reimburse all the expenses.    

One of Ashrafieh’s fancy toy-stores is located in the area of the explosion. The display area looks hunted; teddy bears and baby stuffs are rolled in bags and put in a corner. A huge hole appears in the ceiling and the dust fills the store stealing its former joyful spirit.

“I was in the store behind the cash machine, everything shook suddenly and the electricity cut off. A huge force pushed me away and the store’s glass splashed all over the place like a snowstorm. I felt as if I’m in the middle of a nightmare; it all happened in a few seconds,” Mona, a 23-year-old employee said.  

She added that the glass was security made otherwise she would be distorted in the hospital with severe injuries. On the second day after the explosion, the store-owner began restoration and she filed a report with the costs of the restoration. “Two weeks have passed and nobody paid us a penny,” Mona said.

A minimarket owner shared his experience of the day. It was a typical Friday for the 29-year-old mini-market owner Michelle. He was in his shop in the afternoon arranging the products when out of a sudden something like an earthquake threw him three meters out of the shop.

“When I stood up I looked at the street next to me, cars were on fire and big smog filled out the area. People started running and screaming ‘Oh Jesus it’s an explosion’,” he added.

The first thought that crossed Michelle’s mind was that either Ashraf Rifi, general director of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, or Nadim Jemayel a member of the Lebanese parliament was the target, since their motorcades pass by this street almost every day.

The HRC’s representative examined the damages one week after the incident. He mentioned that the families who were affected by the explosion received direct help and highlighted the situation for the shop owners.

“The explosion left many families homeless but shop-owners will become homeless if the government doesn’t restore the damages within a short time,” Michelle said.

The manager of a nearby restaurant which was smashed up by the bomb attack said, “We were shocked the first few minutes then we were conscious that it is definitely an explosion since many politicians pass by the adjacent streets.”

The restaurant’s front glass and wall were both destroyed, the ceiling chopped down and one worker had minor injuries. Everything was fixed in a week because the owner couldn’t wait for HRC’s long procedure, although the restaurant filed a report with all the costs.

The manager said that a week has passed and Sassine is breathing again with its active people and luxurious business life.

A new dessert shop was opening in Sassine Square, next to the explosion area. Everything seemed arranged; the paint was set, the place was well operated and ready for the opening.  Unfortunately the force of the blast wiped everything away. Equipment was destroyed and the walls were merged with black colour symbolizing a war painting. The next day workers started repairing the damages without waiting for HRC’s examination. Within a week, they were able to finish the restaurant, by paying the double amount of costs.

The shop-owners’ enthusiasm in restoring their stores and refreshing the city strengthened the people and proved that Sassine is the leading commercial area in Beirut.

“People will forget and life will get back to normal, Ashrafieh refuses to die,” one of the shop owner said with a hopeful smile.

Diaa Aljurdy
Diaa is a Lebanese freelance journalist based in Beirut.
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