DIMAN, Lebanon: Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi attended a Mass celebrated Friday in honor of soldiers killed in recent gunbattles with Islamist militants in the border town of Arsal.
Kahwagi held private talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai upon arrival in Diman, the summer seat of the Maronite Church.
Following the meeting, Rai presided over Mass for the Assumption of Mary Day in Diman, north Lebanon.
“The Army saved Lebanon from terrorist plots,” Rai said. “We hope politicians will follow the example of the military men in the dedication and sacrifice and hope for the speedy election of a president.”
Lebanon has been without a head of state since May 25, when former President Michel Sleiman’s term ended and lawmakers have failed in several attempts to elect a successor due to lack of consensus.
“We declare our full support for the military institution, which protects the country’s sovereignty and pride,” Rai said.
He called on the Lebanese people and rulers to support the Army and security forces.
At least 19 soldiers were killed in clashes in Arsal after jihadists from Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria overran the town Aug. 2 in the wake of the arrest of militant commander Imad Jomaa.
The militants retreated toward the Syria border last week, taking with them a number of soldiers and policemen.
Kahwagi has said there are 20 soldiers missing since the Arsal battle.
Rai also prayed for the Christians in “neighboring countries,” a reference to Syria and Iraq.
“We pray that God would bring humanity back to takfiris and free them from the power of Satan that is controlling them,” Rai said.
Thousands of Christians from Iraq have fled after jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized large swaths of the country after taking the northern city of Mosul in June.