BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai stood firm Monday on his decision to go to occupied Jerusalem, a visit that has stirred controversy in Lebanon.
“I told Prime Minister [Tammam Salam] that we are going to Jerusalem on a church- and pastoral-related visit,” Rai told reporters at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
“There is no political motive behind the visit,” Rai stressed, after his meeting with Salam.
The patriarch said that aside from his Jerusalem visit, he also discussed the presidential election crisis with Salam.
“Both of us stressed the need to elect a new president on time to avoid a vacuum,” Rai said.
Rai has previously said he will join Pope Francis during a tour of the Holy Land on May 24-26, a visit that would make him the first Maronite patriarch to travel to Israel since it was founded in 1948.
Hezbollah and others have criticized Rai’s visit, saying such a trip could be seen as a bid to normalize ties with Israel, which is technically in a state of war with Lebanon.