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Patriarchs urge end to assault on Christians in region

Patriarchs meet to discuss the plight of the Christians in the Orient on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Bkerje online,HO)

BEIRUT: The patriarchs of Eastern churches appealed Wednesday to the international community to act quickly to stop attacks on Christians by takfiri militants, deploring lukewarm stances of world powers at a time when the very existence of Christians in Iraq and Syria is at risk.

The prelates made the appeal after a meeting with U.N. Special Coordinator in Lebanon Derek Plumby and the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki, northeast of Beirut.

“The international community cannot keep silent about the existence of the so-called ISIS. They should put an end to all extremist terrorist groups, and criminalize aggression against Christians and their properties,” the patriarchs said in a statement issued at the end of the meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.

They called on the world’s big powers to deprive extremist groups of resources by compelling countries financing them to stop their support.

“The international community is requested to cooperate with Iraq and work quickly to liberate Christian towns, facilitate the return of the people to their homes and ensure their security and safety,” the statement said. “The Christians’ very existence is at stake in several Arab countries, notably in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where they have been exposed to the ugliest acts, forcing them to emigrate.”

The statement said the patriarchs called on political groups to facilitate the election of a president of the republic in order to preserve Lebanon’s stability and security and keep it safe from regional conflicts.

Rai cautioned the envoys of the Big Five and the U.N. representative that the persisting presidential deadlock in Lebanon jeopardized the only Christian top post in the Arab world, at a time when Christians are being persecuted in Iraq and Syria, political sources told The Daily Star.

The sources said the patriarch explained that the explosive situation in Iraq and Syria had adverse effects on Lebanon that were bound to be further exacerbated by the absence of a head of state, hence the need for their countries to deploy their utmost efforts to help end the deadlock.

The Lebanese patriarch underscored the importance of having a stable and secure Lebanon to confront threats of rampant terrorism sweeping the region.

“Rai told the foreign envoys that it is in the interest of world powers to help reinforce the capacities of the national Army in order to make it better armed and equipped to combat terrorism, which is threatening to spread from Iraq and Syria,” the sources said.

U.N. Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly said he assured Rai the international community was aware of the importance of preserving Lebanon’s unity and stability, especially at this time of regional upheavals.

Plumbly said he agreed with the patriarch “that a prolonged vacuum in the presidency would be a matter of grave concern” and that the urgency of the issue should be obvious to everybody.

In addition to Rai, the meeting grouped Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Aram I, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the head of the Evangelical Council Rev. Salim Sahyouni, and a representative of the Roman Orthodox Church.

It was attended by U.S. Ambassador David Hale, British Ambassador Tom Fletcher and Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in addition to the charges d’affaires of France and China and Papal Nuncio Gabriele Caccia.

Rai headed a delegation of the Eastern patriarchs who visited Iraq earlier this month to show support and solidarity with Iraqi Christians suffering at the hands of ISIS militants in the northern city of Mosul.

International alarm has grown over the exodus of Christians from Iraq after ISIS seized large swaths of the country following its capture of the northern city of Mosul in June.

Christians, along with other Iraqi minorities, are reportedly being given the choice to convert, pay a tax for non-Muslims, leave the country or face execution.

While several Western countries, including France, have offered asylum to the fleeing Christians, the community’s religious leaders in Iraq and the region have rejected such offers, insisting that the Christian community must maintain its presence in the Middle East.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 28, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

The patriarchs of Eastern churches appealed Wednesday to the international community to act quickly to stop attacks on Christians by takfiri militants, deploring lukewarm stances of world powers at a time when the very existence of Christians in Iraq and Syria is at risk.

Rai cautioned the envoys of the Big Five and the U.N. representative that the persisting presidential deadlock in Lebanon jeopardized the only Christian top post in the Arab world, at a time when Christians are being persecuted in Iraq and Syria, political sources told The Daily Star.

In addition to Rai, the meeting grouped Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Aram I, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the head of the Evangelical Council Rev. Salim Sahyouni, and a representative of the Roman Orthodox Church.

Rai headed a delegation of the Eastern patriarchs who visited Iraq earlier this month to show support and solidarity with Iraqi Christians suffering at the hands of ISIS militants in the northern city of Mosul.


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