BEIRUT: Lebanon has handed over DNA samples from relatives of 20 citizens killed in a July 24 Air Algerie plane crash in Mali, a foreign ministry source told AFP on Friday.
France is leading the investigation into the crash in which 118 people were killed when their plane went down in a remote area on the southern edge of the Sahara.
The Lebanese foreign ministry source said pathologist Fouad Ayub had taken DNA samples from the relatives of the Lebanese believed to have died in the crash to France, after visiting Mali with a Lebanese delegation following up on the crash.
The delegation arrived in Mali on Sunday, with Ayub then going on to France with the samples, the source said.
Efforts to recover and identify those killed are proving tough, with French experts at the scene saying they had yet to find "intact bodies".
The wait is agonising for Lebanese relatives, including 23-year-old Fatima Basma, whose sister Randa and her three children were killed.
"A great disaster has happened to us. They (Lebanese officials) have told us that the French are looking for the body parts. I hope that they will find my sister's body so I can bury her," she told AFP.
Basma is dressed in black, and at her modest home in Srifa in southern Lebanon verses of the Muslim holy book were being recited as the family waits for news of the investigation.
In the southern Lebanese village of Haris, the family of Manji Hassan is still accepting condolences after his death, along with his wife and four children, in the crash.
- Waiting for news -
The loss is all too familiar for the extended family: Manji Hassan's brother-in-law -- his sister's husband Saeed Zahawi -- was among those killed in a 2010 Ethiopian Air crash.
Hassan's brother Ahmed, 41, weeps as he describes waiting for news from the investigation.
"We hope that the French authorities help find the remains of my brother Manji and his family so we can lay them to rest next to Saeed," he said.
"We want to be able to visit" their graves, he adds.
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil pledged Thursday that the government would do everything possible to ensure the remains of the Lebanese killed in the crash were returned to their families.
Flight AH5017, which took off early on the morning of July 24 from Ouagadougou in neighbouring Burkina Faso bound for Algiers, went missing amid reports of heavy storms.
Many of the Lebanese on the flight were dual nationals living in Burkina Faso, where many Lebanese live and work.
There were also 54 French citizens on the jet, alongside 23 Burkinabe, and nationals of Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
An international team of investigators is backed up by several hundred soldiers -- French, Malians and troops in MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali -- who have secured the site.
But investigators have cautioned that the search is proving difficult and the heat is also degrading the crash site.