BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Saturday that the Qatari emir has informed him that Doha is exerting maximum efforts to help secure the release of the bishops kidnapped in Syria.
His remarks came during his speech at the opening of the first Christians of the East General Conference in Rabweh which was attended by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and MP Michel Aoun.
“I received a letter from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim [bin Hamid al-Thani] in which he confirmed that he is exerting maximum efforts to release the two bishops as soon as possible - similar to what happened with the Lebanese who were kidnapped in Azaz,” Sleiman said in his speech, as a giant poster of the bishops hung above the stage.
Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted in Syria in April by armed men near the Turkish border.
Lebanon's General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was in Doha Friday and met with Tamim, seeking Qatar's help in releasing the prelates. The Maronite patriarch was also in Doha this week where he met with the Qatari emir over the bishops’ case.
Nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria since May of 2012 by rebels were released earlier this month after Qatar intervened and mediated their release along with the Syrian government and Turkey.
During his speech, Sleiman spoke about the threats facing Christians in the Middle East and the means to overcome such dangers, saying Lebanon should provide an example of a different kind of democracy.
“The threats against the presence of Christians in the east is known: the decrease in the demographic and geographic presence, migration, the decrease in the political and economic decision-making power except for in Lebanon, the rise of extremism, and the constitutional controversy surrounding the separation between religion and state,” he said.
Sleiman also noted that Israeli officials' insistence on having a Jewish State not only damages the concept of diversity but also the prospects of a peace process in the region. It also, he added, could impact negatively on Christians.
“Lebanon's model is a special exception that could be the starting point for an eastern social and political system that could lead, with its diversity and individual freedom, to true citizenship,” he said, adding that such a system provides protection for religious and political minorities based on mutual acceptance.
"Coexistence doesn't mean isolation ... but it means constant dialogue, understanding and dealings based on equality,” he said.
Sleiman said Christians should not isolate themselves or seek foreign protection, but instead strengthen the concepts of openness, moderation and dialogue in their environment and exert all efforts toward building a state that would allow for the participation of all its components.