BEIRUT: Hezbollah MP Ali Meqdad Saturday indirectly criticized Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s visit to Israel and his meeting with the Lebanese who fled to the Jewish State in 2000 by saying “we do not want agents among us.”
“There is an issue that really irked me. Some people went to occupied Palestine to convince [Israeli] agents who withdrew with the Israeli enemy in 2000 to come back to Lebanon, and their response was that they have become Israeli citizens now and do not want either the Lebanese or Arab identity,” Meqdad said during a ceremony in Baalbek, east Lebanon.
“The resistance was very careful after liberation and it did not take revenge or hold any of the agents or their families accountable but left things up to the judiciary,” he said.
“We tell those who are preparing a draft law or a proposal to bring back those agents who betrayed the country ... We do not want Israeli agents among us here in Lebanon,” Meqdad said, referring to former members of the South Lebanese Army, a militia that worked with Israel in south Lebanon.
After Israel’s hasty 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 and a few even immigrated to the West.
Israel’s withdrawal ended 22 years of occupation.
“We suffered enough from them during the occupation. They are not even proud of their Lebanese citizenship and we are not proud to call them Lebanese,” Meqdad said.
Hezbollah, among others in Lebanon, had been critical of Rai’s visit to Jerusalem let alone his meeting with former militiamen and their families who are widely seen as traitors in their home country.
During a meeting with them in the northern Israeli village of Kufr Birim, only a few kilometers away from south Lebanon, Rai reassured the Lebanese that he was working with authorities to solve their problems.
Various local media outlets however quoted some former SLA members as saying that they were satisfied with the Israeli nationality.
Although Lebanon bans citizens from traveling to Israel, religious figures have immunity. Rai has become the first Lebanese religious leader to visit the Jewish State despite the formal state of war that exists between the two countries.
The patriarch has rejected criticisms of his visit and repeatedly said that he went to Jerusalem to both welcome Pope Francis to the region and to visit his parishes spread out across the globe.
He also said that the region falls under his prerogative as patriarch of the east and the Antioch.