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Help for burned library

28 February 2014

PA

Pyre: books in Mak­­­­­­­­­­­tabat al-Sa'eh last month 

Pyre: books in Mak­­­­­­­­­­­tabat al-Sa'eh last month 

THE burning down of an antiquarian bookshop and library established by a Greek Orthodox priest in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, has prompted a public response that has cut across sectarian boundaries. Money is being raised in Lebanon and elsewhere to rebuild the facility.

The bookshop and library, known in Arabic as Maktabat al-Sa'eh (the Pilgrim's Bookshop), is the work of Fr Ibrahim Sarrouj. Over a period of 40 years, he had assembled about 85,000 titles in his small premises in the old city.

In early January, a group of armed men, assumed to be militant Islamists, broke in and started a fire that destroyed up to a third of the books, including rare Islamic manuscripts. Fr Sarrouj had earlier received a message falsely alleging that an anti-Muslim pamphlet had been found in one of his books.

Christians, along with Shia-associated Alawites, are minorities in Tripoli, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims. After the fire, hundreds of people from all three communities came to help clear up the mess, co-ordinating their efforts on Facebook (facebook.com/events/483734041736112/). They also started an international online appeal to raise the equivalent of about £18,000 to carry out repairs and restoration.

Fr Sarrouj has received messages of support and donations from Lebanese all over the world, as well as books for his collection. He told CNN that it was "a great source of joy for me that the burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians, and especially clergy and Muslim sheikhs".

Campaigners for the restoration of Maktabat al-Sa'eh say that they want to send out a message that the people of Tripoli are fed up with the sectarian violence that has been afflicting the city. The Sunni-Alawi hostilities in Syria have led to bombings, and to battles between gunmen in Tripoli.

Tripoli is "the second-largest city in Lebanon, and deserves a better way of living", one campaigner said.

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