ANOTHER colour snapshot, this time of a proud graduate, a smart young man in a mortar board at Beirut University College. Iskandar Zakharia's mother, Samira, weeps from time to time as she tells her story, not ritually as do so many Lebanese women when they speak of their grief, but in small, confused sniffles, a middle-class woman appalled to find her defences so easily broken.

'He is so gentle, a good boy, we are so proud of him. He loves life. He loves swimming and music - classical and jazz.' Note the present tense. Is. Are. Iskandar was kidnapped eight years ago. How could he possibly be alive, you ask yourself? But of course, you do not ask Samira this. 'I think he had some girlfriends at university, but he was working at the British Bank of the Middle East. His manager was very proud of him. He said he has a great future. On 2 May 1985, he came home from the bank at about 7pm and watched television. Not the news - he didn't like the news. He liked cowboy films, not politics. Then at about 9.30, some men called at our home.'

With guns? 'Who knows? We did not see any, but they must have had guns in the cars down below. They rang the doorbell of our apartment. He was watching television and came to the door and one of them said: 'We want you to come with us, just to answer a question, and then we'll bring you back.' He refused and asked them who they were. They just insisted and there was nothing we could do. So he left with them. There were soldiers in the barracks across the street but they did nothing. They were too afraid. The men took Iskandar away - but they never brought him back.'

Iskandar was not involved in politics, had never held a gun in his life, had no known enemies. So why him? 'Because he is a Christian man. There were many kidnappings of Christians and Muslims at that time and we are Christians living in west Beirut. We had received phone calls before this, so many calls. A man would come on the phone and say the names of my sons and daughter and my husband and myself and when I asked 'What do you want?' he would close the line.'

Samira believes the Druze militia or Hizbollahkidnapped her son - both deny this - and has convinced herself that he is being held in the Sheikh Abdullah barracks in Baalbek. She has been told this by 'some people' - more of those anonymous informants - but the Baalbek barracks, which was once controlled by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is now back in the hands of the Lebanese government army. And there are, very definitely, no hostages inside. 'I have been to so many people. I went myself to Hizbollah and they told me they wanted to help but couldn't. Some people . . .' - those infuriating, unidentified figures yet again - 'some people used to give me news for the first two years after Iskandar was kidnapped, they said 'they' still have him.' 'They'? Samira shrugs.

'We are waiting for the government to release Iskandar and all these other men. The government is doing nothing for us.' And then Samira breaks down. She remembers the holidays Iskandar took in Austria, Greece and Cyprus. And she remembers how long it is since he disappeared. 'His room is just as he left it, all his suits, his jackets, just as he left them. All over his home I have his picture. I take medicines from the doctor - but I never sleep at night. I am sick, sick. By God, I am dying. I want Iskandar.'

There is nothing more to say and nothing more to discuss with Samira, certainly not the fact that, between May and August of 1985, dozens of Lebanese Muslims and Christians were kidnapped in west Beirut. And none of them was ever seen again.

(Photograph omitted)

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