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Syria visit would have legitimised Lebanon presence: Sfeir

Former patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir is seen in this undated file photo. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir said that making a visit to Syria during his term as patriarch would have meant an acceptance from Bkirki of the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

“The visit would have meant that we accept the Syrian presence in Lebanon, and we do not want to walk in any direction but the Lebanese one,” Rai told Future News in an interview Monday night.

Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Patriarch Beshara Rai will visit Damascus following his warning that the uprising in Syria could threaten Christians in the country should civil war break out between Alawites and Sunnis.

In his comments, Rai also said Syrian President Bashar Assad should have been given more time to implement reforms.

The patriarch later said his remarks had been taken out of context.

During the interview Monday, Sfeir said each patriarch has his own policies and beliefs.

“Rai knows whether it is beneficial or not to visit Syria to check on the community there. Every patriarch has their own way just like every president,” Sfeir said.

In 2000, while heading the Maronite Church, Sfeir declared opposition to Syria's three decades of domination over Lebanon, which ended five years later when Damascus withdrew its troops following former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

“We have had a position regarding the relationship with Syria and I do not think we can change history,” Sfier said Monday. “I do not believe that if we had accepted Syria’s presence in Lebanon the Christians would have been better off.”

Despite his opposition to Syria, Sfeir did not reject the idea that Christians were at risk in the region. “Christians have been in this region and especially in Lebanon since the foundation of Christianity and they have to fight to stay here,” Sfeir said.

The former patriarch also touched upon the division between Christian leaders in Lebanon, saying that he had put efforts to unite Christians who differed in their political policies.

“We tried our best to unite the vision among Christians in Lebanon and this division among them threatens their existence. That is the reason many of them are leaving Lebanon to find safer places,” Sfeir said.

During his term, Sfeir was vocal regarding his opposition to Hezbollah’s arms, and the former patriarch said Monday he did not regret such a stance, which led to the severing of ties with Christian leaders who were allied with the group.

In his September comments, Rai also tied the disarmament of Hezbollah to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, saying that Hezbollah’s justification for carrying arms would collapse when Israel withdraws from Lebanese territory.

“I don’t regret remarks about the mini state and the illegal possession of arms ... Lebanese should be convinced that arms belong to the state which looks after their affairs so that peace can be achieved,” he said.

 

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