BEIRUT: Lebanese officials rallied in condemnation of sectarian insults Sunday, slamming any act that harmed national unity, whether burning Islamist flags and crosses or tagging pro-ISIS slogans on church walls.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, who sparked controversy Saturday when he called for prosecuting three boys who burned flags in Sassine Square, spoke out against the attacks on religious symbols. The minister, who belongs to the Future Movement, warned of the negative repercussions such crimes could have on a legal and national level, saying that hateful acts threaten civil peace, the national pact and the pact of coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
Over the last two days, a series of incidents involving religious symbols and buildings have ratcheted up tensions across Lebanon, already on edge over the continued detainment of at least 24 soldiers and policemen by militants from the Nusra Front and ISIS.
In Tripoli, churches were tagged with a pro-Islamist message Sunday, a day after black flags largely associated with Islamists were burned in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh and crosses were burned in the northern city.
Media reports said crosses were burned in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood Saturday night by a man identified as A.M.
Earlier Saturday, pictures appeared on social media of three youths burning flags in Ashrafieh’s Sassine Square. Although two of the three flags had the names of ISIS and the Nusra Front, all three had “there is no God but God and Mohammad is his prophet” written on them, prompting accusations that the act was an insult to all Muslims.
Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon, who is also a Christian MP from Ashrafieh, joined Rifi in condemning the burning of the flags, warning citizens against falling in to the trap of “sectarian provocation” that could spark discord in Lebanon.
"In our unity we will be able to confront terrorism that comes from abroad," he said in a statement calling on citizens to raise Lebanon’s flag rather than burn any other flag.
He highlighted that ISIS harmed Islam just as much as it did Christianity, stating that moderate Islam is the first line of defense against such fanatical groups.
Tensions continued to rise in Tripoli Sunday, as anonymous groups tagged pro-ISIS graffiti on two churches in the northern city.
“The Islamic State is coming” was tagged on a Syriac church in Mina and the Mar Mikhael Church in the Qibbeh area.
The Army later removed the tag and beefed up security measures in both Mina and Qibbeh, and an investigation into the crime is underway.