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Lebanese politicians express solidarity with Iraq Christians

Future Movement MP Atef Majdalani speaks during an interview in Beirut. (The Daily Star/File)

BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians and Christian leaders reiterated their concern Wednesday over the exodus of Christians from Iraq’s city of Mosul. A Future Movement delegation visited Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji at the Chaldean Archdiocese in Baabda to express their solidarity with the Christians of Iraq, the majority of whom belong to the Chaldean Church, the National News Agency reported.

After holding Mass last Sunday, Kassarji passionately described the plight of Mosul’s Christians, some of whom have fled to Lebanon.

“We came here to express our solidarity with our Christian brethren in Iraq who were persecuted and displaced at the hands of terrorist groups that committed ugly crimes against them, amounting to crimes against humanity,” said MP Atef Majdalani, who headed the delegation, after the meeting.

Iraqi Christians have been fleeing Mosul in hordes after ISIS threatened to convert them to Islam and pay a special levy, or leave and avoid certain death.

“We have been informed about the sufferings of Christians not only in Iraq, but also in the host countries, especially Lebanon,” Majdalani said.

The MP called for the provision of more aid needed by Iraqi refugees and said Parliament’s Health Committee would meet in a week’s time to discuss the issue of Christian refugees from Mosul with the ministers of health, interior and social affairs.

Kassarji called on the Future delegation to bring the plight of Mosul’s Christians to the attention of senior officials. He also emphasized that “Christian refugees should be treated in the same way as Syrian refugees.”

The Daily Star had interviewed a number of refugee families who said they had left Mosul for fear of persecution at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which recently changed its name to the Islamic State.

In Lebanon, Iraqi Christians complain of the lack of employment opportunities, citing competition with an already overwhelming number of Syrian refugees, and lack of international support.

Mosul is said to be the heart of the Christian faith in the region. In an effort to assuage their desperate circumstances, France announced Monday its willingness to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians.

“We are providing aid to displaced people fleeing from the threats of Islamic State and who have sought refuge in Kurdistan. We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil,” France’s foreign and interior ministers said.

“Helping the people of the Levant, Christians and Muslims, can be done by uprooting terrorism from their lands and stopping all sources that nurture takfiri groups,” said the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Levant Wednesday.

The church has strongly criticized France’s offer to grant Iraqi Christians political asylum, describing the move as an attempt to empty the region of Christians. It said the only place Iraqi Christians would feel at home was in their homeland. Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III expressed a similar stance.

“We do need someone to receive us, but we need someone to help us stay in our land. Help us fight terrorism and takfiri groups, end this arms race which only serves to benefit these groups,” Lahham told Tele Lumiere earlier this week.

“We want to be in our land and living alongside our Muslim brothers, despite all the problems,” he added.

Yet, the recent developments have sparked tensions and reopened dormant historical disputes between Christians and Muslims.

“What’s happening in Iraq is a strange thing, but it is normal for Muslims, because they have never treated Christians well,” said Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli George Saliba Wednesday, Elnashra.com reported.

Such claims, with their strong sectarian dimension, have alarmed moderates, prompting Lebanon’s General Coordinator of the Islamic Work Front Sheikh Zouheir Al-Joaid to respond directly to Saliba’s remarks.

“These are defamations against Islam, its beliefs, and what the Quran said about our master Issa the Christ, peace be upon him,” Joaid said, stressing that all moderate Muslim authorities had condemned the jihadists’ actions.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2014, on page 3.

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