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Sfeir urges unity among divided Lebanese Christians

By Nada Bakri

Daily Star staff

Monday, November 27, 2006

 BEIRUT: Lebanon's influential Maronite patriarch warned on Sunday of division within the country's

 Christian community and difficulties in reuniting it under a common cause. "We are going through

 miserable days, but we hope they will be followed by happy days in which the Lebanese will reunite -

 especially the Christians who are divided ... It seems very hard to reunite them," Maronite Patriarch

 Nasrallah Sfeir said.

 In comments to his visitors in Bkirki, the prelate urged the Lebanese "to join hands" for the sake of their

 country. He warned that unless they do so "the situation will be very difficult and we have seen how our

 leaders are being killed one after the other."

 Sfeir's comments come days after Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite minister, died along with one of his

 bodyguards in a shooting ambush in a suburb north of Beirut.

 The Christians are divided between those who support the government and those allied with the

 opposition camp.

 The ruling coalition, or the March 14 Forces, includes two main Christian parties: the Phalange Party, to

 which Gemayel belonged, and the Lebanese Forces, headed by Samir Geagea.

 The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) - headed by MP Michel Aoun - allied with Hizbullah shortly after the

 party leader's return from a 15-year exile in France.

 Aoun's supporters claim to make up 75 percent of Christian voters - and that along with Hizbullah and its

 allies, they represent the majority of Lebanese.

 Since the summer war with Israel ended, the opposition alliance has been demanding a greater say in

 Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet.

 The parliamentary majority, backed by the West, has so far rejected their demands, accusing them of

 seeking veto power in order to hinder the formation of an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in

 former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

 The opposition denies claims that it wants to obstruct the creation of the tribunal.

 Hizbullah and its allies have threatened street protests to force a change in government.

 Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said it is unlikely that Christians will change their positions. "Today

 there is a big difference in opinion among the Christians and I don't think anyone will change positions

 easily because it is about major issues like Hizbullah's weapons and the future of Lebanon," Adwan said

 following a visit to Sfeir on Sunday.

 "What is more important than uniting the Lebanese is to avoid turning this difference in opinions into

 street clashes," he added.

 FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan said the prelate's statements aimed to reach a common vision for Lebanon's


 "It is hard to reunite the Christians but it is not impossible. The patriarch was sending Christians a

 message to encourage them to reach an understanding ... so that their differences do not turn into street

 clashes," Kanaan told The Daily Star on Sunday.