Bombs target booze in Lebanon

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

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On a recent day, Michel Bashawati and Rudy Elia - both Tyre natives - sat in a restaurant overlooking the historic port with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, two glasses and two dishes of pumpkin seeds and peanuts in front of them.

“I am not worried because when I drink I am not harming anyone,” Mr. Elia, 24, who owns a restaurant in Liberia, said as he filled his glass with ice and poured himself a second whisky.

But the attacks raise the question of whether Sunni extremists are moving in or whether local Shiite militants are taking a harder line and trying to enforce a stricter lifestyle in the city.

The last major attacks on alcohol venues came more than a decade ago, in the city of Sidon farther north, and were blamed on Sunni Palestinian radicals from a nearby refugee camp.

Last year, several shops selling alcohol closed in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh after residents protested outside their outlets. Lebanese media said some of the owners received threats from members of an unidentified local party, warning “close your shop or we break your head.”

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi refused to comment on the latest bombings, saying that the group condemned such blasts in the past.

Avoiding injuries

Fadia Kiwan, a political-science professor at Beirut’s St. Joseph University, said Amal or Hezbollah were unlikely to be behind the blasts.

“They don’t benefit from such attacks,” she said. “On the contrary, it embarrasses them and harms their image.”

She said she believes an “external factor,” perhaps other Muslim extremists, were carrying out the attacks to “create strife” and fuel conflicts between sects.

The bombings, which began in November, appear designed to avoid casualties. The Nocean blast was the only one that hurt anyone, and the five staffers were released from the hospital the same night.

In the April 22 Nocean attack, someone slipped into the building at night, apparently removing a security camera that films anyone going into the restaurant.

The security camera of an adjacent supermarket showed a man stopping a car, entering the building and then returning to his car moments before the blast. Mr. Zeidan said authorities are trying to identify the man.

“I will repair the damage and start serving alcohol again even if this means that they will bomb the place again,” Mr. Zeidan said.

The Tyros restaurant, struck by a similar pre-dawn bombing three days before New Year’s Eve, also rebounded quickly. Mohammed Mahmoud, a worker there, said the damage was repaired within hours.

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