BEIRUT — The recent release of a Lebanese man detained in Syria for 27 years has highlighted the issue of what the Lebanese call "The Missing" -- hundreds of Lebanese who disappeared during their country's 15-year civil war. Now, with Syria torn by civil unrest, Lebanese families are hoping their loved ones may soon reappear. Paige Kollock reports from Beirut.
Ali Abou Dehn has wounds he says were inflicted by the Syrian army before his release in 2000 as part of a Syrian diplomatic gesture. Dehn says he was imprisoned in Syria for 13 years.
"I was hanged by this one, until this one was separated," pointing to one of his wrists.
According to Dehn and his organization, Lebanese Political Detainees in Syria, there are approximately 615 Lebanese being illegally detained in Syrian prisons. Most were taken when Syrian forces occupied Lebanon during its civil war.
Recently, Yaccoub Chamoun returned to Lebanon after 27 years in Syrian jails. He is too scared to give an interview. But his release was seen as a sign of hope for families of the so-called "missing."
Ghazi Aad runs an organization called SOLIDE, which works on behalf of the families of the missing.
The group organizes protests, connects families, and maintains a vigil in front of a United Nations building in Beirut. He says Lebanese politicians have done little to pressure the Syrian government and consider the missing people as deceased.
"Chamoun came after 27 years to tell us, and to tell those officials, that no, what you're saying is not right, it's wrong. I'm still alive, after 27 years and yes, there are Lebanese people who are still in Syrian prisons and they are still alive," Aad said.
Families of the missing keep a constant vigil at the UN building. Magida Bashasha's brother Ahmed was taken at age 17 while passing through a Syrian checkpoint. He would be 53 now. Bashasha's mother went to Syria three times to inquire about him.
"They told her we will not allow you to see him before you pay us money, so they used to take money from her and lie to her. They never showed him to her. She was sick and tired a lot. She went many times, not one time, and she never saw him," Bashasha said.
Bashasha stays in the tent every weekend, speaking on behalf of the families.
Dehn says he and 480 ex-prisoners that make up his group believe the conflict inside Syria offers the greatest chance yet for their comrades to be released.
"We get a great hope that people will get out of the prison, OK. Assad is going, no more space for him," Dehn said.
A law creating a "National Commission for the Victims of Enforced Disappearance" is being drafted by Lebanon's Ministry of Justice. Activists says its establishment would be a quantum leap for the missing.