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Lebanese return to find homes gutted -

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Lebanese return to find homes gutted

Reporter: Mark Willacy

TONY JONES: With Syria now claiming all of its troops have left Lebanon, people are starting to
return to villages which had been occupied by Syrian soldiers for the past three decades. But in
many cases, Lebanese have returned to their homes to find them badly damaged or destroyed, while
others appear to have been used for interrogations. There are also calls for Damascus to release
Lebanese prisoners. And for the first time, Lebanese are speaking out about the family members who
disappeared under the Syrian occupation. From Lebanon, our Middle East correspondent Mark Willacy

MARK WILLACY: With its sweeping mountain views and close proximity to the snowfields, the village
of Bois de Boulogne was once the playground of Lebanon's rich and famous. But the funds stopped
with the arrival of the Syrian Army 30 years ago. Declaring the area a closed military zone, the
Syrian soldiers took over dozens of villas. Hotel owner and village mayor George Gosteen was one of
only a few residents of Bois de Boulogne who refused to leave.

GEORGE GHOSTINE, MAYOR AND HOTEL OWNER: (Translated) No-one has any pleasure living in an army
barracks because there are tanks, checkpoints and arms everywhere. This area suffered a lot since
1976 because of the Syrian Army's presence. The area was closed down - people lost their homes,
livelihoods, business and agriculture.

MARK WILLACY: Gharbis Sarkissian is one of dozens of Lebanese who have come to Bois de Boulogne to
reclaim their family home. The son of a wealthy plastics manufacturer, he was shocked by the state
in which the Syrian soldiers left the house.

GHARBIS SARKISSIAN, HOME OWNER: The house was, you know, completely ruined. You feel so ashamed
that they did something like this. But this is war, this is war. Things like this will happen. It's
not something unusual.

MARK WILLACY: In many houses, the Syrian soldiers have taken everything, from the light fittings to
the window and door frames, even the water pipes. Thousands of Lebanese have returned to their
homes to find it nothing more than a shell. But it isn't so much the damage to buildings which
bothers many Lebanese.

GHARBIS SARKISSIAN: This was their intelligence headquarters.

MARK WILLACY: So Syrian intelligence was over there?


MARK WILLACY: For nearly 30 years, Syrian intelligence officers used this villa as a prison and
interrogation centre. When the home owners returned to their villa after the departure of the
Syrians, workmen found the body of a prisoner in the bottom of the well. Mayor George Gosteen was
one of only a few who saw Syrian intelligence at work.

GEORGE GOSTEEN: (Translated) They used to go through a process of interrogations. It would last
between one week to a month. The people who were higher up in rank would be taken to Syrian jails

MARK WILLACY: Amir Hassoun's son was one of thousands of Lebanese who disappeared during the Syrian
occupation. Hassoon Hassoun was fighting for a Christian militia against the Druze when he was
captured and handed over to the Syrians.

AMIR HASSOUN: (Translated) My son was kidnapped in 1982. He was 18 years old. So he would be 40
years old now.

MARK WILLACY: Amir Hassoun says his son was seen in a Damascus jail several years ago by a Lebanese
prisoner. He's heard nothing since. No longer living in fear of the Syrians, Lebanese families are
publicly calling for Damascus to release their loved ones. Prisoner advocate Gazi Arde says Amnesty
International has recently published a damning report into Syrian jails.

GAZI ARDE, PRISONER ADVOCATE: They spoke of 38 methods of torture inside Syrian prisons and many
Lebanese came back either sick or died in prison, because of torture, because of the treatment and
because of extra judicial executions.

AMIR HASSOUN: (Translated) I have a lot of faith and hope. I depend on God, like a child depends on
his parents. Obviously I do fear I will never see Hassoon again, but my faith keeps me going. Death
is a part of life, but I need to know what happened to my son.

MARK WILLACY: Until Hassoon Hassoun's fate is confirmed, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon will
continue to haunt his family. Mark Willacy, Lateline.