One day after twin bombings ripped through Lebanon’s southern coastal town of Tyre, it remains unclear whether the blasts were a message to liquor vendors or UN peacekeepers in the area.
Officials have denied that the bombings targeted the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), pointing instead to the few remaining alcohol-friendly shops and clubs in conservative southern Lebanon.
Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for UNIFIL which is tasked with overseeing peace at the Israeli-Lebanese border, said there was “no indication” that the troops were the target.
“There is a large UNIFIL presence in Tyre,” Teneti told AFP. “UN staff live there so there were two cars parked in the area.
“By chance, there were a couple of staffers staying at the hotel.”
The targets of the bombs, which detonated at dawn Wednesday, were a nightclub at the Queen Elissa Hotel, located in a Shiite neighbourhood and popular with UNIFIL troops, and a liquor store in the Christian quarters of the city.
The streets around both sites were filled with glass and debris following the bombings, which left holes more than one metre in diameter in the walls of the Queen Elissa and the Katoura alcohol store.
Owners of the Don Edwardo nightclub in the hotel are convinced the international force was yet again targetted.
“This is a message to the UNIFIL troops that for eight years have been coming here and have kept business afloat,” said Hussein Muhsen Shaaban, an owner and manager at the club.
“We fear this incident will now have repercussions on business here at the hotel as well as on the tourism sector and shops in the area,” added Nadine Farran, a hotel employee.
UNIFIL patrols have been the target of a string of unclaimed roadside bomb attacks in recent years, including two in 2011.
In the worst, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.
Spain currently commands the 12,000-strong UNIFIL, which was founded in 1978 and was expanded after a devastating 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Timur Goksel, formerly a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, said he believes Wednesday’s twin bombings were the work of a small group of extremists keen on imposing strict Islamic principles.
“This doesn’t look like an organised attack by a major group,” said Goksel, now a conflict management instructor at the American University of Beirut. “It could be a few guys who decided they are fundamentalists.
“My biggest fear in the south has always been… individuals or small tiny groups that decide to take the law into their own hands.”
A campaign to rid southern Lebanon — home to Shiite and Sunni Muslims as well as Christians — of alcohol runs years back.
Liquor stores in the southern town of Nabatieh, where the majority of residents are Shiite Muslims, were forced to close their doors in recent months following popular protests demanding the town turn alcohol-free.
Ten years ago, Sidon, a Sunni city on Lebanon’s southern coast, was also the target of a string of bombings that forced the shutdown of liquor stores.
Today, many fear Tyre — highly popular with local and foreign tourists — could face the same fate.
“We will not be selling alcohol for the coming days, or at least until things calm down and the investigation reveals the truth behind the bombings,” said Elie Baradei, owner of the Katoura shop.
“Whoever planted these bombs aims at destroying our city and the tolerance and co-existence that it symbolises,” Tyre mayor George Baradei told AFP.
“These are saboteurs who are looking to stir trouble.”