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French Version

Lebanese forced to be vigilant in times of trouble

Following the three explosions that rocked the capital last week, security measures have rocketed in major shopping areas as fears of another bomb going off at any moment escalate. It took Rita 25 minutes to get into the ABC commercial mall in Achrafieh, instead of the usual couple of minutes that she needs to park her car, step out of it and enter the mall.

The delay was due to the long and winding line of cars waiting to be thoroughly checked by security guards at the mall's parking lot entrance.

After a thorough inspection of the car boot, under the hood and beneath the car for any hidden explosives, Rita also has to offer up her purse to a meticulous security man.

"I can understand that all this is being done for our own good, but it really scares me to death to see so many security measures all at once," said the 32-year-old woman, who requested her surname remain unmentioned.

"First, we have to open the car's hood, wait for the security guard to search almost every single engine part, then we have to open the car's trunk, and wait for the guards to check every single piece and item in it. Then they pass a mirror beneath the car to check for explosives," Rita said.

In the Lebanese capital, Rita's story is one among many amid strict security measures adopted at every major shopping and leisure center since March 19, when the series of explosions kicked off with the blast in New Jdeideh's main commercial area.

These measures are often discouraging, other times frightening for the visitors, who claim to now think twice about repeating their visit to the overly protected areas.

"They even searched inside my kid's backpack!" said Raymond Khayat, who was shopping at the Monoprix department store in Jnah.

"It took us over 15 minutes to park our car and go through the security checks. I'm not sure I'm ready to go through this every time."

But on the other hand, some citizens find these measures reassuring and are quite satisfied with the presence of such a high security zone and procedures.

"I feel safer," said Rabab Sarkis while touring the ABC mall in Achrafieh, "because I know that nothing bad can happen with all this strict security around."

She added: "These shopping malls have become my kids' only playground, since I dare not let them out on the streets or in other public places anymore for fear of some kind of explosion."

Visitors are not the only ones being searched before entering the malls.

The centers' staff members are also obliged to go through meticulous scanning at the beginning and end of every shift.

"Even though I've been working here for three years now, I cannot escape the scanning," said an employee at the food store Spinney's Achrafieh, who requested anonymity.

"We staff have to undergo the same security measures and procedures as any other visitor and I think it's only fair for things to be that way."

Despite the diversity in acceptance or rejection of these extreme measures, the shopping and leisure centers' managers and owners remain stubborn about using as many security procedures as possible, even if the clientele drops by half.

"I am well aware that extreme security measures may affect my clientele's mood and increase their fears or feelings of insecurity," said one member of the board of trustees in a major shopping mall in Beirut.

"But I insist on having those civilian 'check points' for my clientele, my center and my community's safety."

"Besides, this is not going to go on forever, this nightmare is surely going to end one day. But until then, we'd rather be safe than sorry."

Beirut,04 04 2005
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star
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