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French Version

Will tragedy unite or divide us ? (Daily Star)

As the mourning period draws to an end, and Lebanon slowly awakens from a cocoon of sadness, an air of tension is slowly gaining momentum with Lebanese citizens expressing fear over what might follow former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's death.

"This is how it was before the civil war," said Omar Hamade, 61, who lived through the civil war in Lebanon.

Hamade along with other elders, was sitting near the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque, where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions are buried, watching the crowd and shaking his head.

"People are leaving unsatisfied and angry. I am telling you, a cork will burst and all the anger and frustration of the Lebanese people will come in one big explosion and will hit everyone before anything can be done about it," said Hamade, who lost several family members during the war and said Lebanon is not ready for another one.

"God, why can't Lebanon find its inner peace?" he asked as he listened to a verse from the Koran being played at Hariri's grave.

To keep the streets peaceful, extra precautions are being taken with more police officials stationed across the capital, especially in Beirut's downtown area, closing off more roads.

Tighter security at the burial site and Parliament building comes naturally, one officer said. "With the increased number of demonstrations, one never knows what might happen and that is why there is more of us around the city," he said.

Others don't fear the prospect of a civil war and if anything, are ready for one.

"I will pick up arms if that is what it takes to bring down the criminals that killed Hariri," said Dina Merhi, a mother of two young children, who was visibly angry at not having someone in custody over the killing.

"Be it Syria or anyone else, I am wiling to spread blood to release the hate. I feel in my heart. After Hariri's death, I fear nothing. If civil war in Lebanon or war against Syria is the answer, so be it," she said.

But there are some who feel there is little risk of another war, as Lebanese are now "more aware."

"Lebanese are now more united. The sectarianism of the past doesn't exist and unity at Hariri's death proved that Lebanon has outgrown such divisions," said Majd Houmani, who along with her husband, is hoping for a peaceful solution.

"I blame the politicians for playing upon the emotions of the people and getting them angry and pushing them to fight. We need time to recover and I hate it how people take this opportunity to push their political agendas," she said.

"Just go visit Hariri's grave and you will see how Lebanese are united," she added.

Candles with pictures of the Virgin Mary line graves of Hariri and his companions, along with verses from the Koran, poems, condolences and flowers.

But perhaps the strongest symbol of unity lies in a poster where a brown cross with a yellow Islamic crescent are drawn united beside a picture of Hariri.

In contrast to some predictions of an eruption of sectarian violence, Christians, Muslims and Druze who have been visiting the grave show a rare unity, and both Christian and Muslim neighborhoods shut down during the three-day period of mourning.

"I just hope this unity lasts and Hariri's death will forever be the symbol of sectarian peace in Lebanon," said Houmani.

That just might be the case, as instead of turning against each other, Lebanese are turning against Syria, with regular protests and petitions demanding Syria's withdrawal of its 15,000 troops from Lebanon.

Beirut 22-02-2005
Rym Ghazal
The Daily Star

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