Fri, Oct 06, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Ancient Lebanese sites need urgent repair

MONEY WANTED Israel's war on Hezbollah caused thousands of dollars in damage to three World Heritage sites and dozens of less well-known locations around Lebanon

AP , BYBLOS, LEBANON

A man walks past Roman ruins in Baalbek in eastern Lebanon in this picture taken in August. According to UNESCO, three of Lebanon's five World Heritage sites are in need of urgent repairs following this summer's Israel-Hezbollah war. Experts said that already existing cracks in the temples of Baalbek may have widened because of vibrations from bombings in the area.

PHOTO: AP

A cleanup is set to begin within days at the first of three ancient World Heritage sites damaged in the summer's Hezbollah-Israel war -- a crumbling old castle rising from the Mediterranean whose foundation stones are now coated with oil sludge.

Thousands of dollars from donors will go toward repairing the damage at the three sites -- first at the ancient Phoenician port city of Byblos whose history stretches back 7,000 years, and then to Roman ruins at Baalbek and Roman-era frescos in Tyre.

But officials say they also worry that many other historic sites, such as old souks, or markets, not listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, were also damaged and are getting less attention.

In Byblos, once teeming with tourists, the famous ruins of the castle-fortress are now blackened at the base with scum from an oil spill. The oil spilled after Israeli airstrikes hit fuel storage tanks on Lebanon's coast in mid-July, during the war against Hezbollah.

"The stones of the two ancient towers at the port's entrance, and all the archaeological ruins, are very stained. The site is in immediate danger," said Mounir Bouchenaki, who headed a UNESCO team that traveled to Lebanon to inspect the sites after the Aug. 14 cease-fire.

The cost of the cleanup could be around US$100,000, and the work is expected to start within days after money arrives and coordination with Lebanese officials is completed, he said.

Byblos, one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world, is directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenician alphabet.

The site must be cleaned before winter to prevent permanent damage, said Bouchenaki, who also is director-general of the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.

Other challenges await.

Down the southern coast at Tyre, valuable frescoes in a Roman-era tomb were shaken to the ground. And inland, a block of stone at the Roman ruins of Baalbek was toppled. In addition, already existing cracks in the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus at Baalbek may have widened due to vibrations from bombings in the area, officials say.

Lebanon has five UNESCO World Heritage sites: Baalbek, Tyre and Byblos, plus Anjar and the Holy Valley of Qadisha and the Forest of the Cedars of God in northern Lebanon.

Across the country, dozens of other old traditional buildings, hilltop castles and ancient bridges were damaged.

"We are still taking stock of our losses," says Omar Halablab, director general of Lebanon's Culture Ministry.

Frederique Husseini, director general of Lebanon's antiquities department said Lebanon had asked for US$550,000 in aid from European donors to restore part of the souk in Baalbek and US$900,000 for the restoration of buildings and old castles that were damaged.

"We are still waiting for the money," he said.

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