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Historic Tripoli Library Destroyed By Fire

posted 6 Jan 2014, 08:17 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 Jan 2014, 08:17 ]

Lebanese activists work to rescue rare books and manuscripts after a historic library burns down in the northern city of Tripoli.

TRIPOLI, LEBANON (JANUARY 5, 2014) (REUTERS) -  Thousands of priceless books and manuscripts have been lost for ever after a fire destroyed a historic library in northern Lebanon.

Tripoli's 'Sa'eh Library', owned by Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, went up in smoke on Friday night (January 3), destroying a collection of rare items that the Orthodox priest had spent years putting together.

Those organising a clean-up at the library on Sunday (January 5) said it was a major loss for the entire city.

"About 85,000 rare books. There are books that go back 2,000, 1,000 or 500 years. Father Sarrouj collected the important books. Whenever he finds a rare book, he buys it and puts it in the library. The library is the most important library in Lebanon, it is a historic library and one of the most important landmarks, not only in Tripoli but inLebanon. People used to come from abroad, from Europe and other countries to find rare books here in the library. They came here especially," said Khaled Merheb.

Shocked by the fire, a team of volunteers and activists were hard at work on Sunday trying to clear up the mess and rescue what remained of the valuable collection.

"We, as young people and organisers of this campaign, we want the library to be more important than it was before. Of course, there are books that are priceless and irreplaceable. But at least we will preserve the books that are here and we'll get new books because this is from the city's heritage. Father Sarrouj is not only a symbol for the Christians, he is a symbol of Tripoli and even the most committed Muslims are upset about this. All the people of the area were sad for him, he is living among them. Father Sarrouj is part of Tripoli's heritage. We were all devastated when we heard the news," said Merheb.

The exact cause of the fire remains unclear, with many contradictory accounts of how it began. Some are pointing the finger at extremists, accusing them of torching the historic collection.

But as politicians and religious leaders denounced the apparent attack, the activists quietly continued their work to preserve as much as possible.

"Today, we are sorting out the books. For example, those that are damaged and wet, we are exposing them to the air so that they dry. We are throwing away the ones that are completely burnt, and if they are partially burnt, we are trying to put them in a way so that they can be restored," said Najat Bitar, a relative of Father Sarrouj.

Long considered to be one of the most important libraries in Lebanon, local people said they were determined to see the historic resource reinstated.

"The books that were burnt here are not essential. The library has still got the most important historical books in the Levant," said Georges Abi Zed.

The volunteers and activists say they will continue their cleaning and rescue work until the job is done.

And amid an outpouring of sympathy for Father Sarrouj, donations are pouring in to allow the books to be restored and the library returned to its former glory.