BSHARRI, Lebanon: As of Monday night, authorities were still searching for a Czech man who went missing last week while on a trip in north Lebanon. Thomas Rezika, 46, went missing last Wednesday while hiking in the Qadisha Valley. Rezika sent several text messages asking for help to the staff at the Bou Khass hotel in Bsharri where he had stopped on his way to the valley, a security source told The Daily Star.
The search for Rezika began Thursday morning in the deep ravines, caves and riverbeds in and around Qadisha. The delay between the time of the messages and the launch of the search was attributed to local fears of implication in a security incident, security officials speculated, adding that there was no evidence of foul play or terrorism.
The deep valley carved by the Qadisha River lies within the Bsharri and Zghorta districts of north Lebanon and is considered a sacred place for many Christians due to its history as a haven for early Christians. The valley is a popular tourist and hiking destination.
Authorities were able to track the text messages Rezika sent at 4 and 6 p.m. to the Wadi Hadath al-Jabba section of the valley, but despite intensifying the search of that area using police dogs, no leads turned up. After four days of fruitless searching by local officials, police and volunteers, the Army’s elite commando unit joined the rescue operation Monday.
The head of the Bsharri Union of Municipalities, Elie Makhlouf, said they were searching “without rest” for the missing man.
Makhlouf emphasized that the union had placed signs in several languages along the trails. He said the union was looking into more restrictions, including banning visitors from descending to the valley floor without specific preparations and an official guide.
Bishop Maroun al-Ammar, the head of the patriarchal committee responsible for the valley, expressed distress over the welfare of the Czech man.
“We will step up our efforts in maintaining the valley, but this maintenance is far beyond our means and the responsibility must fall to the state,” he said.