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French Version

Finger-pointers have little to say about Anjar farce

Tuesday's revelation that bodies at a mass grave in Anjar had nothing to do with Syrian wrongdoing continued to draw a deafening silence on Wednesday, contrasting sharply with the clamor that greeted their discovery in December.

The story was buried on the back pages of newspapers and anti-Syrian politicians, who caused an uproar by pointing accusatory fingers at Syria after the discovery, remained silent.

The burial site on the Nabi Uzeir hilltop in Anjar, originally believed to be a mass grave for victims of the Syrian military when it was unearthed back in December, turned out to be a graveyard dating to the 17th century, Lebanese State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza announced Tuesday.

At the time of its discovery anti-Syrian legislators and politicians, as well as Lebanon's influential Maronite Catholic Church, demanded an international probe and trial and labeled the find "physical evidence of atrocities committed by Syrian forces."

None of the officials released any statements following the latest developments. The Daily Star attempted to contact several of the politicians who commented at the time, but all were unavailable for further comment.

Syria had always denied any involvement, calling the accusations a pretext to damage Damascus, which is under heavy international pressure to cooperate with the UN probe into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination.

The Lebanese prosecutor closed the Anjar file, declaring it a "normal cemetery" after forensic examinations carried out in the Netherlands determined the most recent remains dated back to 1950 and the oldest to about 350 years ago.

For the relatives of the missing, who have been at the heart of this case, and who have been waiting for months for answers regarding the identities of the remains, the news simply "stunned" them.

"There was something wrong from the beginning," said Ghazi Aad, director of SOLIDE (Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile), one of the activists closely following the case who informed relatives of the new development.

"From the careless way the grave was dug up, not adhering to international standards, not bothering to do a DNA database to match against the relatives, everything about it was just wrong," said Aad.

"It was obviously politically oriented, and those working on the file were not transparent. They left behind feelings of suspicion among the families, as well as mistrust and a sense of being used and misled," he said.

Aad, who was at the site during the exhumation, recalled that a forensic expert present at the site, Fouad Ayoub, told him "the bones were maximum 20 years old, from around 1990."

The Daily Star attempted to contact Ayoub, but he was not available for comment.

To gain further forensic clarification, The Daily Star contacted another forensic expert, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the "political nature" of the case. It was explained that an expert can identity a bone if it is between one or five years old, but anything older "is difficult without tests."

"A 20-year-old and a 200-year-old bone are completely without tissue, so it is difficult to pinpoint the age without a laboratory test," the forensic expert told The Daily Star.

"It was unprofessional to make any statements about the age of the bones without tests," the expert added.

Abdullah Bitar, the prosecutor general who oversaw the Anjar file and who has been in contact with The Daily Star, said "people and politicians jumped to conclusions before any investigation was conducted."

"Pretty much anywhere you dig in Lebanon, you are bound to find bones, and they might not mean much more than just a grave," Bitar said.

The only official response came from the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which condemned the "digging up graves for political interest."

"According to Islamic law, Muslim and non-Muslim graves should not be tampered with. Graves should not be used to look for evidence of Syrian involvement, which turned out to be completely false and only in the imagination of some politicians," said the statement released Wednesday.

Beirut 12-06-2006
Rym Ghazal
The Daily Star

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