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Country divided by Lahoud extension

UN draft resolution prompts calls for national unity


By Nada Raad

Daily Star staff

Friday, September 03, 2004


BEIRUT: The harsh statement of the Maronite Archbishops' Council Wednesday that accused Syria of Lebanon's woes, asking its armies to withdraw from here gave rise Thursday to several reactions, with some calling for local unity and a joint stance with Syria amid the current US-French threats.

The most severe response came from the Muftis Council, which met Thursday under the head of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, defending Syria and its presence here.

"We can never forget that Syria oversaw our national entente and protected Lebanese unity and avoided the division of its people, while securing its stability and following with our construction and development projects," the statement released by the council said.

Another strong reaction came from former Prime Minister Omar Karami who said, "I am sorry for the words that came in the Archbishops declaration, amid the sensitive circumstances we are passing through."

"The threats hitting the country are of this importance, therefore the safety of the country and its history, heritage and future, cannot be treated by such positions," he said.

Baalbek-Hermel MP Marwan Fares said "Religious figures should not interfere in politics."

Syria's interference in the Lebanese presidential elections has pushed the United States and France to present a draft resolution, expected to be put to a vote on Thursday evening, calling on Lebanon and Syria to abide by a range of measures to secure sovereignty or else "the UN Security Council declares its readiness to consider additional measures to further the implementation."

These external attempts to secure Lebanon's sovereignty and the harsh Archbishops' call for Syria to stop considering Lebanon "a Syrian province," upset pro-Syrian forces here that called on the Lebanese to stand alongside their sister-country, while others warned about the importance to join forces to counter the US-French threats.

"The stage through which Lebanon is passing and particularly the pressures from the UN Security Council, in addition to the economic, political, financial and social domestic situation, make of the current circumstances a critical and dangerous phase that needs the attention and unity of all parties," said Deputy Premier Issam Fares.

In Khaldeh, hundreds of Druze sheikhs visited State Minister Talal Arslan and called in a statement for all the Lebanese to gather around Syria and unite their positions to counter the US threats.

The call to support Syria amid the US-French threats to escalate measures was accompanied by the continuous diplomatic attempts of President Emile Lahoud and Foreign Minister Jean Obeid to strengthen the position of both Lebanon and Syria.

In Baabda, Lahoud met with Defense Mahmoud Hammoud and Minister of State Karam Karam to follow up with the latest developments concerning the UN draft resolution.

Following the meeting Hammoud said that the continuous and present cooperation between the Syrian and Lebanese Defense Ministries is important in this sensitive situation.

Obeid telephoned his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos, Syrian Farouq al-Sharaa, Algerian Abdel-Aziz Bel Khadim and the Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa, who is now in Lebanon.

Obeid said that if the security council endorses the resolution, "We will study the case, and act upon it," adding that he hoped the resolution would not pass.

Meanwhile, former Speaker Hussein Husseini issued a statement that said "It is difficult to believe that the US initiative against Syria is for the interest of democracy in Lebanon."

Representatives from pro-government parties including Hizbullah, the Phalange Party, the Amal Movement, the Tashnag Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, meeting Wednesday to show their support for Lahoud, addressed a memorandum to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan Thursday justifying the constitutional amendment as a "national democratic decision."

In Diman, Qatar Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamed al-Attieh said after visiting the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir that the latter was not just the patriarch of the Maronites but the patriarch of all Arabs."

After visiting Sfeir, Metn MP Ghassan Mokheiber said that the Maronite Archbishops' declaration was a "cry of pain," that should be implemented on the ground; while member of the Christian opposition group Qornet Shehwan, Tawfiq Hindi, said that a meeting between Sfeir and the gathering would be held Saturday.

Meanwhile, statements calling for the extension of Lahoud's term and the protection of Syria were repeated by pro-government parties and figures Thursday, one day before Parliament meets to amend the Constitution, and few hours before the United Nations Security Council votes on the resolution to support Lebanon's sovereignty.

Husseini, one of the major lawmakers behind the 1989 Taif Accord, said that Lahoud should clarify his position to the Lebanese, so that the next phase would be a "intermediate and exceptional phase to strengthen independence and rebuild the government."

More than 100 MPs are expected to cast their "Yes" votes to the extension of Lahoud's term for another three years on Friday evening, with only Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, which includes 15 MPs, and some members of the opposition, to counter the constitutional amendment.




Christians feel pressured from various sides to leave their homeland

 ASIA/LEBANON - The Maronite Church is important for Lebanon, although from some areas Christians are being pressed to leave their homeland” Father Maroun told Fides

 Rome (Fides Service)- The Christian community of Lebanon is vivacious and strong in faith despite many serious problems in the country and consequences of civil war, which lasted for 15 years (1975-1990). The Maronites form the largest of the 6 Catholic communities in Lebanon (the other five are Latins, Greek Catholics Syrian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics and Armenian Catholics).

“For Christians, like everyone else in Lebanon the situation is difficult although since the end of the war there is more hope for peace” Father. Maroun Abouzeid, parish priest of Notre-Dame de Maamarieh, near Sidone. “The main difficulty is economic. Average salaries are low in Lebanon about 300,000 Lebanese Lire (circa 200 dollars) and some families find it hard to put something on the table at midday and in the evening after the first ten days of the month” Father Maroun told Fides. “It is not surprising then that in recent years no less than 700,000 Lebanese have gone to live abroad. Of these 70% were Christians. This high percentage is due to the economic situation but also because Christians feel pressured from various sides to leave their homeland” Father Maroun told Fides. He says that “emigration and the high birth rate among Muslims has changed the ethnic-religious composition of Lebanon’s population which up to a few decades ago was 50% Christian, whereas today Christians are a little more than 30%”. Nevertheless the Maronite Church is still an important reality, which makes a fundamental contribution to society in Lebanon. “Our Patriarch, Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir, is known and respected by all” Father Maroun told Fides. “The Church prays for and works to build peaceful coexistence among the 18 different ethnic-religious communities. All of us hope that a solution will be found for the problem of the Palestinian people, some of whom are still in Lebanese refugee camps and we want to have good relations with all neighbours”. “In this situation we still have a good number of vocations. Moreover the Catholic Church in this country is known and appreciated for Catholic schools and universities at all levels and their high level of instruction and culture and they are attended by Muslims as well as Christians”. To day the Maronite community as 14 dioceses in Lebanon, and some abroad (United States, Egypt, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Syria, Terra Santa and Cyprus). “Altogether Lebanon has 13 million ex-patriots of whom 8 million are Christians mostly Maronites” Father Maroun told Fides. “Thanks to its network of dioceses all over the world the Maronite Church keeps its faithful united and the local community is a point of reference where ever they are” Father Maroun concludes. (L.M) (Agenzia Fides 2/9/2004 righe 38parole 503)