Chapter 22:

The blast that could have killed Houbeika in Zahle.

The gambling continued. The two chieftains went on supping with danger, moving heaven and earth to legitimize their seats, unleashing their terrible swift arms to smite each other, playing their “shabab” off against each other. Samir with a coherent outwardly regular military force, Hobeika with a bunch of deracinated boys, loyal but totally incoherent if it were not for the Syrian forbearance and backing.

In the Christian fiefdom, Samir Geagea remained immeasurably more acceptable. He was anti-Syrian. They were literally obnibulated by implanting their popularity, and respective hegemony projects. They harbored their spite against each other, brewing their vengeance, whatever the consequences on the Christian community at large, and their loyal partisans who had raised both of them to power. Their mutual bombastic slogans and speeches received no echo, “The security of the Christians ABOVE any other consideration” sounded more like “UNDER every” and Halate Airport by all means sounded void and more like a war hatchet that a deliverance.

Geagea, with a strong well trained army of loyalists and a seemingly infallible Intelligence Organism, held Beirut by the neck. He provided important social services including health services, schooling, jobs, public transport and cooperatives. Hobeika was confined in his haunt with some 300 men he held at his beck and call, backed by the Syrians who kept puffing him up with money and dreams of power. He was keyed-up, but crippled by his unpopularity. He was despised by the Lebanese Christians because he had dared side up with the Syrians to crush them and ruthlessly stampeded his co-religionists.

Mutual harassment grew louder and louder with the help of Christians from Zahleh, civilians or religious, who could not forget the horrors committed against them by the Syrians, only a few years before. Explosive charges went off every now and then, until the big day.

Ghassan Touma, Geagea’s Chief Intelligence, persuaded Father Samih to stuff a big explosive device at the Bishopric, where Hobeika usually met his allies. Tcluma and Samih coordinated through a transmitter and secret agents. On D-Day, Hobeika had a meeting at 5:00 p.m. with Monsignor Haddad, Elie Ferzli and Khalil Hraoui at Zahleh Bishopric. I escorted him from Damascus and Zouheir and, as usual, drove him in his Mercedes. We first dropped at my apartment, seat of corruption, for a secret meeting with Mrs. Habib El Primo, the wife of the private secretary of Syrian Intelligence Big Boss Colonel Mohamad El Kholi. Hobeika had to get laid before any action.

His loving-making romps were getting him high, so he asked me to put the meeting off to 7:00 p.m. When the time came, Bourvil drove Hobeika and me to the Bishopric in his own car, a Golf to camouflage his whereabouts for security sake. He went up with Bourvil (Fares Suidane), while I stood at the entrance. The meeting had hardly began when Monsignor Haddad received a phone call and just answered, “Yes he is here.”

Hobeika felt uneasy and anxious, and asked who it was. Monsignor Haddad replied, “Father Samih is inquiring if you’re here,” and the bomb went off. The explosion was so powerful, I felt the sky crumbling on my head. I managed to smash in the Church door and dashed upstairs. I found Bourvil seriously wounded, his face and hands bleeding. His eyes and ears injured. I sent him to hospital in one of the ambulances that had rushed to the premises. I and a couple of boys forced our way through the collapsed pillars and huge brown smoke.

No one was spared, they were all buried under the rabbles. Khalil Hraoui, conscious but half covered up, Elie Ferzli unconscious and his face bleeding from a bad cut near the mouth, Monsignor Haddad, his head protruding from the collapsed walls, pointing a finger at the spot where Hobeika was out of sight, buried under the rabbles. I started digging like a mad dog with my “paws”, until his head showed up. He was alive but hardly breathing.

I and Imad Kassass, one of his close Guards, cleaned up his face and we kept moistening his lips, with my own shirt, until he came to and started to breathe regularly. He grabbed my hand and would not leave it until I set his mind at ease telling him, “Don’t worry, chief, I am here, let me get you out”. Zouheir Saleh, another personal guard, held his head up, and Walid Challita kept everybody off, at my own instructions, while I was gently pulling him out. The minute news broke out that Hobeika was alive and well, there was an explosion of joy and random shooting.

An ambulance rushed him to Tell Shiha Hospital where I saw to it that nobody came near him, neither the Syrian officials, nor his own family and lieutenants. I set up a tight security belt around him. Finally I allowed two reporters from our private radio station to get in for a photo and a short statement. “I am alright,” Hobeika said, and I sent them away.

The Syrian Command and Michel Murr wanted to make sure that Hobeika had no internal bruises or hemorrhage. They decided to take him to Hafez El Assad’s private Hospital, Teshrine, in Damascus. From there, they had planned to fly him to a Swiss hospital. Incredibly, the Syrian military helicopter sent to pick him up could not land because of the heavy random shooting. We had to travel by road. Three ambulances took three different ways for security. We were worn out and edgy, but we had to face the music. One of the ambulances went down through Shtaura, the second through Ferzol, and the third through Masnah border point.

The result of the medical checkup in “Teshrine” was comforting to Hobeika because the doctor’s found nothing but a broken jaw, superficial cuts and bruises. Due to his minor injuries, there was no need to take him to Switzerland. Elie Ferzli, on the other hand, had a serious lip wound caused by shattered glass. When Hobeika came to in hospital, he immediately told me about Father Samih’s suspicious phone call. Catch him, he stressed. I sent a unit to the Lazarist Convent where he was staying. He knew we were coming after him and he threw his transmitter in the garden just before we showed up. We arrested him and took him to our headquarters. The Syrians wanted to have him so he was handed over and taken to Anjar where he had a hell of a time. He was terrorized, tortured and humiliated so much so that he shot himself.

I am not priding myself, but if it were not for my rapid action, Elie Hobeika would never have come out alive from Geagea’s 50kg bomb blast. He owes me his life, a life of power-seeking and fortune-making, and above all fundamental cruelty and egocentricity. All he could do to repay us was to throw me and the boys in a hell of a fix.

Joseph Asmar was the man assigned to handle all security issues. He turned out to be nothing but a moronic zombie who Hobeika appreciated, because he just could not conspire against him. It was his carelessness and stupidity that caused the blast. Hobeika, who loves to wrap himself up in mystery, surrounded himself with halfwits. Joseph Asmar is now one of “Minister” Hobeika’s closest assistants.

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