Lebanon 'Mass Grave' Said to Be a Cemetery

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 7, 2006; 11:18 AM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A burial site in eastern Lebanon originally believed to be a mass grave for victims of Syria's military presence is actually a graveyard dating to the 17th century, a Lebanese prosecutor said in a statement published Wednesday.

Syria ended its nearly three-decade military presence in Lebanon last year. The remains of at least 28 people discovered in December in the Bekaa Valley town of Anjar ranged from 50 to 350 years old, Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza said.

"The remains found ... are part of an ordinary cemetery used by Muslims who lived in the village to bury their dead," said the statement by Mirza published by local newspapers Wednesday.

None of the remains were dated after the year 1950, the statement said, adding, "there is no evidence that any crime was committed."

Turkish soldiers, posted to the area when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, were among those buried. Last year's discovery of the site caused an uproar as anti-Syrian political forces pointed the finger at Syria's military which pulled out in April 2005 amid domestic and international pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

At the time, anti-Syrian legislators and politicians, as well as Lebanon's influential Maronite Catholic Church, demanded an international investigation and trial following the discovery of the grave.

Syria denied any involvement, calling the accusations a pretext to damage Damascus, which has come under heavy international pressure to cooperate with the U.N. inquiry into Hariri's assassination.

The investigation has implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the massive truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 other people in Beirut in February 2005. Syria has repeatedly denied involvement in the killing.

Syria's exoneration clears up a sore point between the two countries whose bilateral relations are at their lowest point in decades.

© 2006 The Associated Press