BEIRUT: Dozens of Lebanese gathered in Downtown Beirut to protest Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s visit to Israel and his meeting with former militiamen, who were members of the infamous South Lebanese Army.
Holding banners with Rai’s picture next to a question mark, the protesters demanded the prelate apologize for the visit, particularly his defense of former SLA members, a militia that fought alongside Israel during its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon.
“The agents were primary Israeli tools of torture and killing,” one the protesters, mostly former detainees of the infamous Khiam prison, as well as Israeli prisons, said.
“We wonder who we are if those agents are victims?” he asked, saying that 14 martyrs were killed inside the Khiam facility, where SLA members used to torture their detainees.
After Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon on May 25, 2000, dozens of families fled to Israel out of fear of retribution. Some have returned and received light sentences, while others remain in Israel.
Hezbollah, among others in Lebanon, have been critical of Rai’s visit to Jerusalem and his meeting with former militiamen and their families, who are widely seen as traitors in their home country.
During a gathering with them in the northern Israeli village of Kufr Birim, only a few kilometers away from south Lebanon, Rai reassured the former militiamen that he was working with authorities to solve their problems.
One of the protesters in Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square spoke of his personal experience with the “agents.”
“They brought my mother and lashed her in front of my eyes, after they taped my mouth shut. Are these victims or traitors to the nation?” the man, dressed in yellow, told Al-Jadeed television.