Tripoli, Lebanon

A man inspects burned books after an arson fire at the Saeh Library in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Ibrahim Chalhoub / AFP/Getty Images / January 4, 2014)

Tens of thousands of books were lost to fire when a library in Lebanon was set ablaze.

Officials said unknown arsonists torched Tripoli's Saeh Library, or Traveler's Library, Friday after claims that its founder, Father Ibrahim Sarouja, a Greek Orthodox priest, had written an anti-Islamic online article and that anti-Islamic materials had been found in the library.

A source told Agence France-Presse that the reports were unfounded; a protest against the priest had been planned and called off -- and then the fire followed.

Sarouja founded the library in 1972. It moved to Tripoli's Serail neighborhood a decade later; photographs of the library before the fire show an ancient building full of shelves of books. It is estimated that the fire claimed two-thirds of its 80,000 books.

Sarouja told Lebanon's Daily Star that he has always maintained a strong relationship with the Muslim community. “How is it possible that Muslims accuse me of this?” he asked.

In Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, a number of prominent figures, including Muslim leaders, have condemned the fire and marched in support of Sarouja.

Naharnet reported that Salafist cleric Sheik Salem Rafei stated that “Islam denounces any unjust act against anyone” and that “some groups want to incite sedition between Muslims and Christians in Tripoli.”

Sarouja told the Daily Star on Sunday that he had forgiven those who set the fire. “I am looking for them [the attackers] to tell them that I love them,” he said.

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