BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri backed over the weekend controversial statements by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai on the situation in Syria, describing the religious leader’s comments as serving to protect Lebanon.
“The patriarch’s comments in Paris protect Lebanon from danger and I agree with what he stated and affirm his vision that is rooted in both a religious and national background,” Berri said in comments published Saturday by An-Nahar newspaper.
Earlier this week Rai warned against the fall of the present leadership in Syria, stressing that power could fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and thus threaten Christians in Lebanon’s neighbor.
“If the situation further deteriorated in Syria and we reached a more radical rule than the current rule, like the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, Christians there would pay the price, either in the form of killings or displacement. Here is the picture of Iraq in front of us,” Rai said in Paris Monday.
Rai also urged the international community to give Assad a chance to carry out political reforms and launch dialogue with opposition parties.
Assad is an “open-minded person who studied in Europe but he cannot make miracles,” Rai said.
In his interview with An-Nahar, Berri, who has described stability in both Lebanon and Syria as interdependent, said Lebanon held a unique position in the region that safeguarded the presence of Arab Christians.
The Patriarch’s comments, reflecting Vatican fears over the presence of Christians in the region according to media reports, has sparked controversy among members in the March 14 coalition, which has voiced sympathy with pro-democracy protesters in Syria.
Rights group say around 2,200 civilians have been killed in what they describe as a brutal crackdown by Damascus.
Damascus blames the death of protesters on “armed terrorist gangs” and says members of the army have also been killed in what it describes as a conspiracy targeting the country.
The international community has condemned Assad’s crackdown and leading Western nations such as the United States have called on the Syrian president to step down.
On Saturday, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and Future Movement both voiced their regrets over Rai’s statements on Syria. in their
“The Sunnis of Lebanon and Syria are the most protective of people when it comes to minorities who have lived among them for a long time and shared the best humanitarian and national relations,” Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya official Bassam Hamoud told reporters after meeting Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri at her residence in Sidon, south Lebanon.
MP Boutros Harb, a member in the March 14 coalition, also voiced his regrets over Rai’s statements.
Stressing that Christians had suffered immensely under the rule of Assad, Harb said he disagreed with the patriarch’s views.
“The patriarch knows we respect him, but what he said does not reflect our point of view. I do not agree with his conclusion,” Harb told Ash-Sharq Radio Station Saturday.
"He [Rai] knows what is best in terms of religious matters. However, we know what is best when it comes to political matters.”