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September 22, 2017

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Syria war sparks fear for Lebanon missing

BEIRUT, Lebanon--For 22 years, Mary Mansourati has been waiting for her son, Dani, to come home. His shirts are ironed and hanging in his closet. His trousers, neatly folded, are stacked on the shelves next to his bed in the family's Beirut apartment.

Dani was 30 when he was detained by Syrian intelligence and has not been heard from since. He is among an estimated 17,000 Lebanese still missing from Lebanon's civil war or the years of Syrian domination that followed.

The war in Syria has added new urgency to the plight of their families. Hundreds of Lebanese were detained by the Syrians, and their relatives are convinced they are still alive. Now they fear they will be lost in Syria's labyrinth of overcrowded jails and detention facilities or be killed in the ongoing mayhem.

The war in Syria has also added a new generation of names to the already long rolls of the missing. There are no exact figures, but human rights organizations say tens of thousands of Syrians have vanished in the three years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began.

Elsewhere in the region, nearly 70,000 Iraqis are still missing from three wars over the past three decades, including sectarian bloodletting that was unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to government figures.

There's never been any truth or reconciliation process that might uncover the fates of these missing.

The 82-year-old Mansourati believes her son is alive in a Syrian prison, despite having no concrete evidence or word that anyone has seen him. A fighter with an anti-Syrian Christian militia, he was arrested in 1992, two years after the civil war ended.

"We need our sons back," she told The Associated Press in an interview at her home in east Beirut, where she cares for her gravely ill husband.

Friday marked the ninth anniversary of a permanent protest tent Mansourati and other families of the missing have erected in downtown Beirut. Every day, relatives sit at the tent, sometimes spending the night. Photos of the missing and slogans calling on Assad to explain their fate line the sides of the tent.

"We are tired of going back and forth to the tent. We are getting old," Mansourati said.

Like many relatives of the missing, she believes Lebanese officials, some of whom led militias during the civil war and fought on behest of the Syrians, are complicit in covering up their loved ones' fates.

There has been no serious state-led documentation that would produce an official record with the numbers of dead, injured, missing and forcibly displaced. Lebanon went into "collective amnesia" after the war, the International Center for Transitional Justice said in a recent report documenting the country's failure to examine and deal with its complex past.

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