It’s high season for seafront restaurants like Nishu, which has a view over a seafront bayside promenade and draws customers like a waterfall. That Sunday, however, was not such a pleasure for the proud venue as it served about 1,000 diners who, nervously, had to wait in a long line to select food dishes at their tables.
The police were nearby, keeping watch over the scene of the bombing that had shattered the traffic-clogged streets of Beirut’s seaside Mezze district, a hub for many international companies headquartered in the Mediterranean city. And inside the eatery were employees of the Hayat Nazarin, Lebanon’s largest bank, who, panicked by the attack, had been shuffled onto a bus to rush out of the city.
It was the third major explosion in Beirut since May, two of them against cafes that have become gathering spots for young people. The radicals who may be responsible for these attacks have little to gain from killing innocent people who just wanted to enjoy a drink at a cafe at the end of the day.
But it is a worry for the global community. Lebanon is one of the few Arab states that has sought to establish itself as a regional and international player. And unlike neighboring Syria, Lebanon is the world’s only Arab state that is also part of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The intersection of historical shifts and shifting balance of power can lead to fatal violence. Civil war wracked Lebanon in 1975-1990 and renewed in 1975-1990, and the country remains in a state of profound paralysis today with no clear-cut leader. In 2017, a bomb targeting a military ceremony in the Beirut suburb of Jbeil injured three American civilians, who had just gone through airport security.
The bombing of Mezze is not the first such incident in Lebanon this year. In May, another bomb in Mezze targeted the ubiquitous Ahlia cafe, which has been one of the most active nightlife venues in this gritty neighborhood, and more recently on Oct. 23 an explosion hit the Dor Maal project by Rotem Group in a working-class section of the city.
A video clip circulated by Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV showed how fast the explosion seemed. It showed people fleeing as the large building collapsed.
Lebanon saw a spate of bombings that claimed over 250 lives and destroyed buildings, businesses and infrastructure between 1978 and 1984, and numerous bombings since then, leaving about 8,000 people dead and tens of thousands more injured.
Experts say violence will likely continue as the threat of terror groups like ISIS cannot be defeated militarily and the increasing threats posed by the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah make any war, from now or in the future, extremely unpredictable.
A fire still burns Thursday at the destroyed Ahlia cafe in Beirut’s Mezze district.
Businessmen in Beirut have been rattled. “We just want to go home tonight and spend time with our families,” said Abu Omar, a 27-year-old executive who was waiting to order lunch. “We want to have a conversation and enjoy food and good service,” he said. “We live in a nice country, the food is good. You don’t find this here.”
Welding vendor Ahmed Qara also chose to spend time with his family.
“We want to pay attention to our house, our kids and just relax … it’s not good for business,” he said.
For the Lebanese, the risk of bombings and other incidents is part of daily life, but the way international media cover them has worsened the emotional impact.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.