DIMAN, Lebanon: Ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates did not show up at a meeting Tuesday held by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and attended by Syria’s envoy to Lebanon.
Walid Ghayyad, the spokesperson for Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Church, told The Daily Star that the absence of the envoys was likely due to travel engagements abroad or the worsening security situation in Lebanon.
But, according to an Arab diplomat present at the meeting, their absence was most likely the result of their unwillingness to meet Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, who was the first to arrive.
The Iraqi and Moroccan ambassadors also failed to appear at the meeting in Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite patriarch.
Those who attended the meeting included ambassadors from the Arab League, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Palestine as well as the charges d’affaires from Yemen, Oman and Jordan. The gathering was chaired by the secretary-general of the Maronite Patriarchate, Rev. Antoine Khalife.
Sources said the meeting Tuesday was one of many in a series of gatherings between Rai and a number of ambassadors which first began with representatives from the European Union and Latin American countries.
These meetings were designed to strengthen national ties and improve consultations, as well as exchange views on the current situation in Lebanon and the region.
They were also aimed at finding ways to boost cooperation.
A statement released by the Patriarchate media office said that during the meeting Rai expressed the views of the Maronite Church toward the recent security incidents in Lebanon and the region, and “its keenness on maintaining the Lebanese stance of coexistence, respect, and preserving the rights of all citizens.”
The statement also said the meeting between the envoys and the patriarch was “honest and frank” and that the participants discussed regional issues and expressed the importance of prioritizing citizens.
An Arab diplomat present at the meeting confirmed to The Daily Star that the reason behind the absence of the ambassadors was the presence of the Syrian ambassador.
He said the participants discussed the security challenges in Lebanon following the recent explosions in Beirut’s southern suburbs and Tripoli and the division between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as other factions, in Lebanon.
Rai visited the Beirut suburbs Monday and offered his condolences to the victims of the Ruwaiss bombing after visiting the Higher Shiite Council, warning that ongoing divisions among rival groups along religious lines would be costly.
He had Sunday visited Tripoli, where he extended his condolences to the families of the victims at the Rashid Karami International Fairground.
According to the diplomat, Rai said he had made unsuccessful attempts to unite the Christian position, a result of the regional situation and the “large gaps” between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.
Rai also said he was “disappointed” that consensus over a new electoral law had yielded no results and that the Constitutional Council was unable to carry out its duties.
“[Rai] is not optimistic and does not believe that the Cabinet issue will be resolved easily,” the diplomat said, adding that Rai wanted a new National Dialogue to take place, but believed the unrelenting positions taken by both the March 8 and March 14 camps would hinder that possibility.
Those present at the meeting stressed the importance of continued dialogue between the patriarch and the Arab states in order to avoid misunderstandings spurred by reports in the Lebanese media.
They also emphasized that many international powers were serving the interests of Israel and that there were “Western attempts to divide the region,” the diplomat said.
The ambassadors did not release a statement after the gathering because they were requested not to do so by the Maronite patriarch.