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French Version

Many fear series of attacks will now focus on civilians instead of politicians

The bombs that tore through two buses outside of Beirut on Tuesday, killing three passengers and wounding 23 others, were seen as a sign by many Lebanese that civilians were now, for the first time since an ongoing spate of killings began two years ago, being specifically targeted.

"It's the first time they attack civilians. The situation is really dangerous now. I think we are going into a very dangerous period as we are in a situation like Iraq; terrorism is everywhere here," said Marina Bakhous, 25, a resident of Beirut.

Two bombs exploded Tuesday during morning rush-hour traffic in Ain Alaq, near the Metn town of Bikfaya. Bikfaya is the hometown of former President Amin Gemayel, whose son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated last November.

"We're tired of [politicians] talking; it has been 30 years now. Civilians are always targeted, whether it's by bombing them or killing their leaders," said Gemmayzeh store-owner Elie Chamoun. "They want people to be scared. I don't know who 'they' is. I don't have ideas of who did it. I don't like politics, I don't care - I just want to run my business."

Many believe the attack was aimed at scaring government supporters from participating in a commemoration of the second anniversary of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri to be held Wednesday.

Hariri's gravesite is located adjacent to a two-month-old opposition sit-in in Downtown Beirut which has sparked concerns that clashes could erupt between the two groups as supporters visit the grave.

"This bomb will not scare me from going to the Hariri memorial tomorrow," said Dalia Khoury, a lawyer who works in central Beirut. "I think whoever bombed the buses did it to scare people from going to the memorial. A lot of people will go, but not as many as before the bombing. I was going to go with my children, now I will leave my children at home and go alone."

The opposition and government have been at loggerheads since November, when six ministers aligned with the opposition quit to push the ruling majority to share more power.

Despite negotiations, the political impasse, nearing its third month, still persists.

A group of Hizbullah supporters camping in Downtown refused to give their names, but blamed Israel for the latest bombing because "it allows America to pressure Syria."

"[The opposition] sees that perhaps there is a political side that wants this sort of thing to happen to let certain people be affected with a particular sectarian atmosphere," said Antoine Franjieh, a Marada Movement supporter camped out near Martyrs Square. "[Those responsible] can then go to the area that is sympathetic to them and take a designated stand to get support."

Others believe a foreign power is using Lebanon as a regional pawn to sow sectarian chaos.

"I just think that this bombing was specifically [intended] to stir up trouble for tomorrow," said university student Raya Rassi, 23. "Maybe some country from outside that wants to cause a civil war, and it will [benefit] them if this happens in Lebanon, especially since tomorrow is the second anniversary of Hariri's death. This would be a good time to stir up tensions in the Lebanese community."

Many Lebanese said that the memorial service to be held for Hariri on Wednesday would serve as an opportunity to show their resolve.

"We need to go to show we cannot sit afraid at home," Khoury said, adding: "Either we die with dignity or we leave Lebanon. We cannot live in Lebanon without dignity anymore. It has been 30 years and for me that's enough."

Beirut 14-02-2007
Maria Abi-Habib
The Daily Star

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