Fear and grief as Lebanon’s Tripoli bury buries its dead

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Said Ebous bursts into tears as his wife wrapped her arms around him after they buried their three children, who were among 45 people killed in twin Lebanon bombings.

Ebous had been praying in the Al-Taqwa mosque in the northern port city of Tripoli on Friday when a car bomb exploded in the courtyard. Minutes earlier another blast had struck outside Al-Salam mosque.

“When I came out of the mosque into the courtyard, I saw bodies everywhere, I knew my children had died,” he says between sobs.

“They took me to a nearby house to calm me down. Then they told me: ‘Your children are in paradise’,” he said of his daughter aged seven, and his sons aged four and five.

The twin bombing outside the two Sunni Muslim mosques also killed hundreds, according to an initial toll which could rise as residents were still searching for missing relatives.

Shock and grief grip Tripoli on Saturday, a day of national mourning across Lebanon, and the usually bustling streets are empty while shops are closed, an AFP correspondent reported.

The fear of fresh attacks is palpable.

Soldiers on foot and in armoured vehicles patrol the city while armed men civilian clothes stand guard outside the headquarters of political parties and the homes of MPs and religious dignitaries.

Security forces stop motorists and search cars they deem suspicious.

The few shops that have opened have placed metal bars across their windows.

In the afternoon armed men order shopkeepers to close their business and go home after reports that a bomb had been found on the outskirts of the city.

Violence is not new to Tripoli. The city has been riven by strife over Syria’s conflict and has been rocked by frequent fighting between opponents and supporters of the government in Damascus.

As with the car bomb that targeted the Rweiss neighbourhood, a densely populated mostly-Shiite district in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the Tripoli blasts killed civilians.

“Since yesterday, my daughter has not stopped asking me: ‘Will we see more bodies?’,” says Mustafa al-Mussawel, who had also been at prayers in Al-Taqwa, and lives nearby.

He ran home when the blasts struck. “I saw my wife and two young daughters had been wounded in the head... I also saw human remains on my balcony.”

On Saturday soldiers were still clearing the charred remans of several cars from the sites of the attacks, one in the centre of the city and the other near the port.

Shoes lay scattered across the pavement near to where the bombs detonated.

Shopkeepers inspected their wrecked stores and people wandered around the blast sites, searching for their relatives.

“I am looking for the husband of my sister. Here’s his car,” says Mohamed Khaled, 38, pointing to a damaged vehicle.

“He is a baker, he was coming from Beirut and passing through here,” he adds nervously.

“His family is devastated. If he died, may God protect his soul.”

Several charred bodies are yet to be identified, a security official said.

The latest wave of attacks has revived painful memories of the car bombings that marked Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), as well as the attacks on politicians hostile to the Syrian regime.

“I have never seen so much destruction and death in my neighbourhood,” said Said Farhat, 35, who works in a clothes shop near the Al-Salam mosque.

“I am scared that it might happen again, I am afraid of dying buried under the rubble.”

“I am thinking of emigrating. Everything is going badly in Lebanon, and nowhere is safe in the country any more,” he adds.

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