Lebanon, others in Mideast, bury victims of Istanbul attack

By PHILIP ISSA - Associated Press ,

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Relatives and friends of Elias Wardini, a Lebanese man who was killed in the New Year's Eve Istanbul nightclub attack, carry his coffin during his funeral procession, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Relatives and friends of Elias Wardini, a Lebanese man who was killed in the New Year's Eve Istanbul nightclub attack, carry his coffin during his funeral procession, in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo: AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon on Tuesday buried its citizens who perished in the Istanbul nightclub massacre on New Year's Eve amid an outpouring of grief that has for days dominated local TV channels and discussions among the country's politicians.

Lebanon — a Mediterranean nation of 5 million people — lost three nationals in the carnage in Turkey. The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, killed 39. Another six Lebanese nationals were wounded, according to local media.

Funerals were also held in Jordan and in Israel, which lost a citizen each in the assault.

One of Lebanon's victims Rita Chami, 26, had lost her mother to cancer only last July. She had taken time out of her university studies to care for her.

The other two — Haykal Mousallem, 34, and Elias Wardini, 26 — were both personal fitness trainers in Beirut. Wardini was engaged to be married; Mousallem got married four months ago. Both of their partners survived the attack.

Lebanon, accustomed to tragedy in the aftermath of its civil war and occasional bouts of violence, has treated its Istanbul victims as national heroes, their coffins draped in the Lebanese flag as they were brought back home.

In Beirut's Ashrafieh neighborhood, grieving relatives and friends set off fireworks on Tuesday morning as residents bid Wardini farewell. His funeral was attended by some of the country's leading Christian politicians. Mousallem was buried in his native Chouf district, outside the Lebanese capital. Chami will be buried on Thursday.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked the Lebanese to stand still for five minutes in memory of the dead.

But the local press went further than that. The country's top TV stations sent reporters on intrusive assignments on Sunday, broadcasting live from the homes of the bereaved as they learned of the fates of their loved ones.

On Twitter, Hariri urged the outlets to leave the families in peace.

The bodies were repatriated Monday night, sparking another media frenzy, first at the airport and then the hospital morgues where the remains were taken.

Wardini's funeral was broadcast live on Tuesday on national TV, which called the victims "martyrs in every meaning of the word," and condemned Islamic State militants as "enemies of God."

The New Year's attack on Istanbul's Reina club also touched others across the Middle East. The IS said it targeted Christian revelers in response to Turkish military operations against the militant group in northern Syria — but most of the dead were foreign tourists from Muslim countries. Turkey's Anadolu Agency said nearly two-thirds of the victims in the upscale club, which is frequented by local celebrities, were foreigners.

In Jordan, hundreds attended the funeral ceremony Tuesday for 44-year-old businessman Nawras Assaf who died in the Istanbul attack. Assaf's wife was among those wounded.

In Israel, thousands attended the funeral Tuesday of 18-year-old Layan Nasser, an Arab Israeli killed in the Istanbul attack. She had gone to Istanbul to celebrate the New Year's with three friends.

Mourners wept as they marched through the streets of Tira behind Nasser's wooden coffin. The city's mayor, Mamoun Abd El Hai, declared a day of mourning, with banks and municipal offices closed.

"She had dreams to work, to progress, to study, to raise a family, but unfortunately the terror put an end to her dreams and ended her life," the mayor told The Associated Press.

Another Israeli traveling with Nasser was wounded in the attack. Nasser's father told Israeli Channel 10 TV that he had a bad feeling about his daughter's trip to Istanbul.

"I was very concerned about this trip," Zaher Nasser said. "I asked her not to travel in light of the bad security situation there, but she insisted to go with her friends."

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