SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
We turn now to the civil war in Syria and repercussions it's having on neighboring countries. Millions of people have fled across Syria's borders into Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. In some cases, the fighting has followed them. Gunmen from the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah are fighting alongside Syrian government forces. Sunni militants in Lebanon allied to Syrian rebels are launching revenge attacks. And the results has been a string of suicide bombings in Beirut's southern suburbs that have dramatically changed public life. NPR's Alice Fordham takes us there.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: To understand how life has changed in the Hezbollah stronghold, hop on a bus in central Beirut and head south.
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FORDHAM: Riding the bus to Beirut's southern suburbs used to be a bumpy, crowded but pretty fun experience. You pay about a dollar and everyone crams in next to each other bouncing around on the way to the area they call the Dahiyeh. On the way, you pass garages and vegetable stalls, and when you arrived there were juice bars and cafes. But after a series of bombings in the Dahiyeh and another one in a bus just like this little one outside Beirut, few people take the bus and the ones that do, say they're afraid.
FARAH: The majority of the people are preferring to not to take buses. You know, either they go to places that are near to their homes or for example by driving a taxi or by walking.
FORDHAM: That's Farah, who says she now checks out passengers to make sure they're not carrying bombs. As violence has risen in the Dahiyeh, the Lebanese army has set up a check point on the edge of the district. We're now pulling up to a checkpoint, one of several that dot South Beirut these days. They're checking the IDs of the guys on the bus and giving them a body search.
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FORDHAM: Going through a bag of shopping. They check our passports and we go on our way. But not for long. About 100 meters further down the road, we get stopped at another checkpoint. This time, there are no Lebanese flags painted on the sentry boxes, there's no uniforms. This is a Hezbollah checkpoint. The guy stopping us has got a distinctive yellow band on his arm. The local commander has a bushy beard and straddles a motorbike. These guys are polite but do not let us go right away. You can wander around all over Lebanon, they say, but in the Dahiyeh, you need permission. Eventually, we move on. We arrive at the main shopping street in the Dahiyeh a little while later. There were two car bombs here last month. Maytham, a journalist friend, says it changed the neighborhood.
MAYTHAM: People come here either to buy their clothes or have something to eat or go to the shop. But after these two bombs in the same street, people just you can see it's empty.
FORDHAM: It's striking how many of these shops have some kind of protective barrier.
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FORDHAM: Like sandbags. These two guys are standing on the corner of the street, they're filling a huge pile of sandbags.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through Translator) We have started this a week ago, from the first, second bomb happened people started to sell and buy these sandbags.
FORDHAM: Just round the corner is a café. It was blown to smithereens six days after it opened, in January's second car bomb. Two people died.
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FORDHAM: Now, they're re-plastering, re-painting. The owner, Uday, recalls the bombing.
UDAY: It's like a warzone when you come here.
FORDHAM: People are cautious in the Dahiyeh now but there's also an air of defiance here. Just walking a little bit further down the same street, there's a row of gents' clothing stores and there's one guy who's got some pretty smart outfits in the window, but he's obscuring them with a big pile of sandbags that he's making.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAND PACKING SANDBAG)
SIMON: I ask Brahim, the owner, if anyone has closed their shops because of the violence.
BRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)
FORDHAM: No, no, never, he says. We're going to stay here till we die. Alice Fordham, NPR News.