Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lebanese Cardinal Concerned About Christian Exodus

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Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church, is very concerned about the "progressive devastation" in Lebanon and "the growing outward migration of Christians, who are not returning."

"We held out in the Arab world for 2,000 years, but now things are going downhill at a rapid pace," he told Spiegel Online. "The current crisis is dramatically amplifying this tendency."

He speculated that if Hezbollah should ever take power in Lebanon, "Christians will leave the country in droves."

The cardinal said it was unfortunate that some Christians "make arrangements with Hezbollah - if only for tactical reasons." His statement was in response to an observation made by Spiegel that Christian General Michel Aoun, who could possibly be Lebanon's next president, has forged an alliance with Hezbollah.

The cardinal expressed his support for Prime Minister Siniora's peace plan, which calls for the disarmament of all Shiite militias.

"As soon as a cease-fire with Israel takes effect, as soon as the two sides exchange prisoners and the Shebaa Farms are returned to Lebanon, Hezbollah will no longer have the right to maintain an army," he said. "Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war."

The cardinal said Lebanon wants "orderly relations" with Syria. "We refuse to tolerate proxy wars on Lebanese territory. … That means Damascus must accept the demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and release our prisoners."

The cardinal warned that Lebanon's greatest threat currently is Iran, which continues to ship weapons into the country.

A native of the Palestinian territories, the cardinal also told Spiegel that Lebanon wishes for the Palestinians "to have their own state on their home territory, just like we Lebanese have our own state. … But the struggle for Palestine cannot be fought from Lebanon, the smallest and weakest state in the Arab world."

The cardinal said he only expects peace with Israel once "all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel, too."