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Fear and grief as Lebanon's Tripoli buries its dead

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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 by twin car bombs in Lebanon.

Ebous had been praying in the Al-Taqwa mosque in the northern port city of Tripoli on Friday when a bomb exploded in the courtyard.

Minutes earlier another blast had struck outside Al-Salam mosque just a couple of kilometres (a bit more than a mile) away.

"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 children were among seven people buried on Saturday in Tripoli, a day of national mourning across Lebanon, as the usually busy streets were deserted and shops remained closed.

Gunmen in civilian clothes attending the funerals opened fire in the air to vent their anger at the bloodshed, an AFP correspondent said.

"We must avenge every drop of blood that has been spilled," said one of the mourners, Khaled al-Homsy.

Others around him shouted slogans against the government in Syria whose 29-month conflict has spilled into Tripoli, triggering frequent clashes between opponents and supporters of the Damascus regime.

The bombings outside the two Sunni Muslim mosques also wounded hundreds, but the toll could rise as some of the injuries were horrific and because people were still searching for missing 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.

Shock and grief grip Tripoli on Saturday, and the fear of fresh attacks was palpable, the AFP correspondent said.

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

Security forces stopped motorists and searched cars.

Merchants put metal bars across their shop windows, and the few that had opened were told to close again by armed men who said a bomb had been found on the outskirts of the city.

As with the August 15 car bombing that ripped through a densely populated neighbourhood in Beirut's mostly-Shiite southern suburbs, the Tripoli blasts killed civilians.

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

He had run 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 cars from the sites of the attacks that struck the city centre and 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.

Friday's attacks revived painful memories of the car bombings that marked Lebanon's civil war (1975-1990).

"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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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130824/fear-and-grief-lebanons-tripoli-buries-its-dead