Image: Bosnian Muslims pray near coffins at the Memorial Center in Potocari during a mass burial, near Srebrenica
Dado Ruvic  /  Reuters
Bosnian Muslims pray near coffins during a mass burial near Srebrenica on Wednesday.
updated 7/11/2012 9:38:00 AM ET 2012-07-11T13:38:00

They came again, on the 17th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II, to bury their dead in the town whose name is now synonymous with genocide.

Some 30,000 Muslims traveled to a memorial center in Srebrenica, Bosnia, on Wednesday to bury 520 newly identified victims — the remains of thousands of 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in July 1995 by Serb forces.

The annual ritual was as heartbreaking as ever.

Izabela Hasanovic, 27, spent the last minutes crying over one of the coffins before it was lowered into the ground.

7 years on, families mourn as 520 Srebrenica victims are buried

"My father, my father is here," she sobbed. "I cannot believe that my father is in this coffin. I cannot accept it!"

Another woman dropped on her knees next to a coffin, pressing her lips against the green cloth covering the wood.

"It's your sister kissing you. It's me," she whispered to the coffin, caressing it with both hands until others lowered it.

Image: Bosnian Muslim women cry as they touch the coffin of a relative
Amel Emric  /  AP
Bosnian Muslim women cry as they touch the coffin of a relative, among 520 newly identified Srebrenica victims, at the Potocari memorial cemetery near Srebrenica, some 160 kilometers east of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Monday.

Then the valley echoed with the sound of dirt pounding on over 500 coffins from thousands of shovels as a voice read out the names of the victims and their ages from loudspeakers.

Among them were 48 teenagers as well as 94-year-old Saha Izmirlic, who was buried next to her son who also died in the massacre. On the other side of her grave, an empty space is waiting for her grandson who has not yet been found.

Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the enclave in July 1995, separated men from women and executed 8,372 men and boys within just a few days. Dutch troops stationed in Srebrenica as U.N. peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned and failed to stop the slaughter.

Srebrenica: The story that will never end

The bodies of the victims are still being found in mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia. The task has been made even more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators dug up mass graves and reburied remains in other mass graves to try to cover their tracks. The victims have been identified through DNA analysis and newly identified ones are buried at the Srebrenica memorial center every year.

So far 5,325 Srebrenica massacre victims found this way have been laid to rest.

Mladic still a hero
Mladic was arrested last year in Serbia and is on trial now at the tribunal in The Hague. He faces 11 charges, including genocide, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war that left 100,000 dead, especially the Srebrenica massacre. He denies wrongdoing.

But despite the charges, to many Serbs Mladic remains a national hero.

Horrors of Srebrenica massacre set out at Mladic trial

"Serbs believe he is an honorable and fair man," said Bosnian Serb Novica Kapuran from the town of Pale, near Sarajevo. "He is being blamed for something he has not done."

That attitude angers Muslim Bosniaks.

But Holocaust survivor Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue in New York, who came to attend the funeral in solidarity with the victim's families, told The Associated Press that Bosnian witnesses should simply continue testifying and keeping a record.

Schneier said he knows from dealing with Holocaust deniers that "to the advocates of a revisionist history, you cannot even present the facts, because they will not accept them."

Photos: The charges against Ratko Mladic (on this page)

The rabbi urged the world to stand up in the face of injustice, "hear the cry of the oppressed and to respond. "

"Silence on the part of the international community ... only strengthens the perpetrators," he said.

In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a statement honoring the memory of the "8,000 innocent men and boys" who were massacred in Srebrenica 17 years ago.

"The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th century," Obama said.

Obama said the U.S. "rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalize the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bosnians mourn Srebrenica genocide victims

Photos: The charges against Ratko Mladic

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  1. Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic inspecting troops in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica on Dec. 2, 1995. Mladic, one of the world's most wanted men, was arrested on May 26, 2011 and faces charges of genocide and war crimes at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. (Oleg Stjepanovic / AP, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Citizens sprint across 'Sniper Alley' during the siege of Sarajevo in 1994. Mladic's forces besieged the city for 43 months, during which time an estimated 10,000 people were killed. (Tom Stoddart / Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A man supports the head of a Bosnian Muslim woman as she is transported to hospital in the back of a car. She was badly injured by Serbian mortar shelling of Sarajevo on June 27, 1992. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ratko Mladic pats one of his soldiers on the cheek at the Lukavica barracks on the outskirts of Sarajevo on Feb. 15, 1994. (Pascal Guyot / AFP - Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The feet of a 10 year old Bosnian Muslim boy, Elvedin Sendo, clad in grass-stained running shoes and marked with his name tag, protrude from under a blanket at a hospital morgue after his school came under a shelling attack in Sarajevo on March 22, 1993. (Chris Helgren / Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Bosnian Serb wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, second right, and his general Ratko Mladic, first left, walk accompanied by bodyguards on the Mount Vlasic front line on April 15, 1995. Karadzic was arrested on July 21, 2008, and extradicted to The Hague. (Sava Radovanovic / AP, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Evacuees from Srebrenica look out from a U.N. truck in Medgas, north of Sarajevo, as a convoy carrying evacuees from the besieged Bosnian town made its way to Tuzla on March 20, 1993. (Michel Euler / AP, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A group of Bosnian Muslims, refugees from Srebrenica, walk from the village of Potocari to Muslim-held territory near Olovo on July 13, 1995. (Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ratko Mladic, left, drinks a toast with Dutch U.N. Commander Tom Karremans, second right, in the village of Potocari, 3 miles from Srebrenica, on July 12, 1995. Mladic is accused of orchestrating the methodical slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslims from the "safe area" of Srebrenica, in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. (AP, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bosnian refugees from Srebrenica cry over their missing men in a refugee camp at Tuzla airport on July 14, 1995. (Wade Goddard / Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Evacuees from Srebrenica board a U.N. truck to be taken to a refugee camp at Tuzla on July 15, 1995. (Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Grieving women at a refugee center set up to shelter Muslim families after they fled Srebrenica. Over a period of five days the Bosnian Serb army took control of the small spa town and separated Muslim men from their families. Over 8,000 men and boys were systematically murdered in the fields and valleys around the town. (Tom Stoddart / Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forensic experts from the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague work to uncover a pile of partly decomposed bodies on July 24, 1996. The mass grave was found in the village of Pilica and was believed to contain the remains of some of the missing men from Srebrenica. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bosnian pathologist Rifat Kesetovic examines skulls of victims in a hospital in Tuzla on March 28, 1997. The remains were found in mass graves and in wooded areas following the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica. (Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Bosnian Muslim clerics pray during a ceremony in Potocari on July 11, 2001. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims returned to Srebrenica to inaugurate a memorial on the sixth anniversary of the massacre. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A forensic expert with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) holds a photograph found with remains of a victim of the Srebrenica massacre, in the Bosnian town of Tuzla on July 7, 2005. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Two women cry over a coffin on July 10, 2005 in a factory hall in Potocari where the remains of 610 victims of Srebrenica massacre awaited burial. Their bodies were found in some 60 mass graves around the town, and a mass funeral was held on the tenth anniversary of the massacre. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. People carrying Bosnian flags pass by a destroyed house during the second day of a march to Srebrenica on July 8, 2006. Hundreds of Bosnians undertook a four-day march along the route survivors used 11 years earlier to escape the killings in Srebrenica. (Amel Emric / AP, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A home video obtained by Bosnian television and broadcast in 2009 shows Ratko Mladic, center, attending a party at an unknown location while he was a fugitive. For most of his years at large, Mladic managed to live discreetly but safely in Belgrade, relying on loyal supporters who consider him a war hero, not a war criminal. (AFP - Getty Images, file) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A photograph of Mladic taken in Belgrade after his arrest on May 26, 2011. (Politika via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A police car drives by the house, on left, where Ratko Mladic was found in the village of Lazarevo, about 50 kilometers north of Belgrade, Serbia on May 28, 2011. Mladic was arrested at the house two days earlier after 16 years on the run. (Vadim Ghirda / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pro-Mladic demonstrators are engulfed by smoke from flares during a support rally in Belgrade on May 29, 2011. To many Serbs, Mladic remains a national hero. (Vadim Ghirda / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A forensic expert from the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) works on trying to identify the remains of a victim of the Srebrenica massacre, at the ICMP centre near Tuzla on June 1, 2011. (Dado Ruvic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ratko Mladic salutes as he takes his seat in the International Criminal Tribunal where he faces war crime charges on June 3, 2011 in The Hague, Netherlands. (Serge Ligtenberg / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Bosnian Muslim women, survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, watch the live broadcast of Ratko Mladic's appearance before the international tribunal, in Potocari, near Srebrenica, on June 3, 2011. The 69-year-old is accused of masterminding the Srebrenica massacre - the only episode of the Bosnian war officially established as a genocide - and the siege of Sarajevo. (Elvis Barukcic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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