Over 50,000 books are the latest causalities of sectarian violence in Lebanon. A group of Muslims burned two-thirds of the collection of the historic Al-Saeh library in Tripoli after purportedly finding a literally incendiary anti-Islam pamphlet tucked into one of the books.
"We denounce the burning of the library and reject any harm being done to Tripoli and its people, as it has been, and will remain, the city of the world and of intellectuals," Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Saturday.
A security source told Agence France Press that “Two thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there” were reduced to cinders by the fire, Russia Today reported, despite firefighters’ efforts to control the blaze. The Al-Saeh library in the Serail neighborhood of Tripoli was a wealth of historic documents, few of which were salvaged.
The source said that a manuscript that insulted the Prophet Muhammed had been slipped into the pages of one of the books. Local Muslims planned a demonstration after the text was found, then called it off when the library’s curator, a Greek Orthodox Priest, spoke with Muslim leaders in the area.
“The library owner, Father Ebrahim Surouj, met with Islamic leaders in Tripoli. It became clear the priest had nothing to do with the pamphlet, and a demonstration that had been planned in protest over the incident was called off,” said a source from the Lebanese news outlet Naharnet.
A library worker was shot and wounded Thursday, it reported.
The fire was incited by rumors that Srouj had written anti-Islam articles online, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.
Imad Ayyoubi, an officer of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, said at a news conference that Srouj had no connection to the anti-Muhammed manuscript.
"Father Srouj has nothing to do with the article and the source of the website is from Denmark and was published on Jan. 7, 2010,” Ayyoubi said.
"Whoever seeks to incite strife in Tripoli is destined for imprisonment similar to those who carried out the attack,” he said. He did not name the attackers, but said their identities were known.
Lebanese police continue to investigate the incident.
While the country has been largely peaceful in recent years, the war in nearby Syria has recently ignited tensions. Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Alawites, and supporters of the rebels have butted heads in 18 violent clashes in Tripoli alone since the Syria conflict began in 2011.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the perpetrators of the library fire only served to help Lebanon’s enemies.
"Whoever did this is doing a favor for the enemies of Lebanon and of coexistence ... with the aim of damaging Tripoli's image depicting it as a city of extremism," Siniora said in a statement.
Demonstrators have rallied to support the library and condemn the attackers, holding signs in the streets of Tripoli reading “This is contrary to the values of Islam” and “Tripoli, peaceful town.” Father Srouj told Lebanese media that he had forgiven the attackers.