DIMAN, Lebanon: President Michel Sleiman and the Maronite bishops denounced Wednesday the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but warned against a U.S.-led military strike against the strife-torn neighboring country. “We are against a foreign military intervention in Syria. But this does not mean that we do not condemn in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons to annihilate people,” Sleiman told reporters after attending a heritage event with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Diman, the patriarch’s summer residence.
He said it was up to the United Nations, which is investigating the chemical arms attack that killed hundreds outside Damascus last month, to take action against the culprits.
Sleiman urged Lebanese and external parties to distance Lebanon from any regional conflict should Syria be attacked by the United States and its Western allies for allegedly using chemical weapons against civilians.
“If a [military] intervention happens [in Syria], I appeal to everyone, external or internal parties, not to involve Lebanon in this issue and to fully neutralize it,” Sleiman said.
“Lebanon’s territory, airspace and its people shouldn’t be part of an action or reaction [to a military strike].”
The remarks were apparently directed at Hezbollah amid fears that the party, which is backing forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, might attack Israel in response to a massive military strike on Syria.
Similar warnings were issued by the Maronite bishops.
“The bishops denounce the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but they call for being aware of the risks of a potential military strike,” the bishops said in a statement following their monthly meeting, chaired by Rai in Diman.
Washington has warned it is considering military action against the Syrian government after accusing it of being behind a chemical attack that claimed the lives of over a thousand people in the suburbs of Damascus last month.
The bishops said that a possible military strike on Syria could affect the entire region, advocating a political solution as the best option for ending the crisis.
“We call for resolving the Syrian crisis through dialogue and peaceful diplomatic means; a political solution is the best option for Syria,” the bishops said.
They also reiterated their call for forming a Cabinet capable of addressing challenges facing the country.
“Given the dangers threatening Lebanon from both inside and outside the country, the bishops call on state officials ... to overcome all barriers dividing them and form a Cabinet capable of confronting dangers and of protecting the Lebanese people and constitutional institutions from total collapse,” the bishops said. “It is high time to realize that if the nation falls apart, we will all fall with it.”
The council’s meeting was attended by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who later attended a lunch and held a closed-door meeting with Rai.
Rai voiced concern over the delay in the Cabinet formation.
“We feel with you in the role you have to bear and we praise your patience and efforts. We are concerned with the fate of the nation in this difficult period and the lack of a government that can confront developments,” he said.
For his part, Mikati stressed the need for National Dialogue to end the country’s political crisis and reiterated his call to remain neutral when it comes to conflicts in the region, mainly in Syria.
“Dialogue between the Lebanese is centrally important for resolving disputes and leaving our children a nation that is at peace and not subjected to wars every few decades,” Mikati said.
“I call for facing the difficult circumstances experienced by Lebanon through consolidating the domestic front and reinvigorating the policy of dissociation by returning to the Baabda Declaration.”