Bombs target booze in Lebanon

Restaurateurs, liquor store owners say they won’t bow to violence

TYRE, LebanonZahi Zeidan vows he won’t back down as he stands in his bomb-shattered restaurant and oversees workers carrying debris out of dining rooms where patrons usually are drinking and dancing.

“They targeted us because we serve alcohol,” Mr. Zeidan said. “Selling alcohol is my right. This is my country, and I will not accept that people dictate to me what I work.”

Mr. Zeidan’s restaurant Nocean was hit last week by a bomb blast after closing time, injuring five staffers and wrecking part of the hall.

It was the fourth in a string of bombings in recent months that have targeted establishments selling alcohol in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre.

Such attacks are rare and the bombings are the first of their kind in years in the south, raising worries that Islamic militants are trying to make a show of strength.

But the identities of those militants remain a mystery. No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, and police investigations so far have brought no revelations.

In general, Lebanon is perhaps the most tolerant Arab nation when it comes to alcohol.

Beirut is known for its bars and clubs frequented by locals and foreign tourists. Beach parties, in which men and women in bathing suits dance and drink are also common in the capital as well as the coasts north and south of the capital.

But other parts of the country are more conservative, including the south, which is the heartland of Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim community. Much of the population shuns alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam.

In most southern towns and villages, shops largely don’t sell alcohol, and people avoid drinking in public to avoid harassment from Shiite hard-liners. The Shiite militant group Hezbollah holds sway across much of the south and doesn’t tolerate alcohol sales.

Tolerating alcohol

Tyre, a tourist-draw city on the Mediterranean coast, has been an exception.

It historically has been a stronghold of the less-austere Shiite group Amal, and the group turned a blind eye in the past to alcohol business.

The southern city, which is majority Shiite but also has Christian and Sunni Muslim communities, is known for its fish restaurants along the corniche, where many people like to drink arak, an anise-flavored liquor, with seafood.

In the face of the threats, some are determined to keep the margin of tolerance in the city.

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