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Lebanon ponders future for hotel turned civil war relic

BEIRUT -- A symbol of Lebanon's golden age, but also its brutal civil war, the empty shell of the Holiday Inn hotel in Beirut could now take on a new life.

No one yet knows what it will become, but after decades as a chilling reminder of the 1975-1990 conflict, the building is set to be auctioned off in the coming months.

Towering over the Beirut seafront, the Holiday Inn is instantly recognizable because of the bullet and rocket marks still covering its walls, more than two decades after the war that devastated Lebanon.

It survived the so-called Battle of the Hotels, one of the civil war's earliest and most violent confrontations, pitting Christian militias against Palestinian fighters allied with Lebanese Muslims and leftists.

One of the most iconic images to emerge from the war, taken just as Beirut was being torn apart into east and west, showed a tower of black smoke rising above the building.

The Holiday Inn, which had opened for business a bare two years before the conflict broke out, featured prominently in “Circle of Deceit,” Volker Schloendorff's vivid 1982 movie about a war correspondent who sets up shop in the hotel while reporting on the raging civil conflict.

It never returned to being a hotel, and has instead loomed silently above a fast-changing city populated by memories of a dark past and dreams of a dazzling future.

“It's a unique building. It's sad that 24 years on (from the end of the war), all we see is a carcass,” sighed Roland Abdeni, CEO of real estate company CIL (Compagnie Immobiliere Libanaise), which owns 34 percent of the building's shares.

The landmark Phoenicia Hotel just next door has been restored to its onetime glory, but the shareholders of the building housing the defunct Holiday Inn have been locked in a dispute over its future.

While CIL wanted to renovate the building and set up luxury lofts for rent or sale, a Kuwaiti group that owns half the shares has been keen to demolish the site and erect a new tower block like scores of others that have sprang up in post-war Beirut.

A fresh window of opportunity has opened, just as CIL prepares to disband 50 years after its establishment, and now the building is set to be auctioned off.

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A plant grows from between the marble in the abandoned building of the Holiday Inn hotel in Beirut on April 11. The building came under heavy fire during the 1975-1990 conflict between Christian and Muslim forces and has not been in use since. (AFP)

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