BEIRUT: A gathering of March 14 Christian leaders under the auspices of the Maronite Patriarchate said Friday Lebanon was in “grave danger” and warned against attempts to thwart the country’s democratic system in the wake of threats to abolish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) or of civil strife.
“We declare here that Lebanon’s entity, democratic system and openness to the world is today in grave danger,” a statement by the attendees said.
They said that they were “aware of the dangers of imposing on the Lebanese an impossible and unjust formula – deny justice in order to preserve civil peace, or sacrifice civil peace for the sake of justice – and their being invited, under the threat of arms, to work toward abolishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.”
Attendees, who met at Bkirki, the residence of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, said internal and regional forces sought to separate Lebanon from its Arab environs, an implied reference to Hizbullah’s ties to Iran.
The statement read by Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel said the gathering called on the Lebanese to rally in defense of Lebanon’s diversity and sovereignty against plans to establish “a state within a state” and “turn Lebanon into a spearhead in attacks against the Arab world.”
It urged Arab states to protect the country against “an assault” with repercussions that would destabilize the entire Arab region.
The leaders said Lebanon was facing a national crisis that extended beyond political disagreements into attempts to shake Lebanon’s core foundations by overthrowing its constitutional institutions.
“We call on the president … to work to put an end to the duality of weapons and restrict the responsibility of defending Lebanon to legitimate forces by supporting the Lebanese people’s right to a country that is not a theater of war for foreign parties or that does not serve the interests of a domestic party,” it added.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who attended the meeting, said Hizbullah’s threats and intimidation had failed to pressure March 14 parties to relinquish their position.
But playing down the possibility of strife, Geagea voiced confidence in the role of President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as well as security institutions, to preserve stability.
The attendees urged the international community to implement its commitments toward Lebanon, particularly UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the July 2006 war with Israel, as well as Resolution 1757, which led to the establishment of the STL.
Addressing dangers facing the Christians’ presence in Lebanon, the gathering expressed concerns by the Lebanese people, particularly Christians, of facing the same fate as their “brothers in the Arab world where states collapsed and religious extremism took over.”
The gathering said Lebanese Muslims shared Christian concerns that sectarian strife in some Arab states may spread to Lebanon.
Asked whether it would have been more advantageous to invite Christian leaders of the March 8 coalition to participate in the meeting, Geagea said he doubted whether the other side was capable of taking independent decisions.
“It is clear that some are assigned a mission contrary to their convictions, beliefs and that of their popular base,” Geagea said.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by MP Michel Aoun, and the Marada Movement, headed by MP Sleiman Franjieh, and Christian groups allied to Hizbullah did not take part in the meeting.
The Future Movement, an ally of March 14 Christian groups, lauded the gathering’s statement, which it said reiterated commitment to Lebanon’s constitutional institutions and foundations.
In a statement released following the meeting of the bloc headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, lawmakers stressed the need to maintain a calm tone to counter the provocative discourse “by some parties” and highlighted the importance of preserving Muslim unity as a guarantee of national unity.
Jbeil MP Simon Abi Ramia, an FPM official, said the meeting, rather than convey a message to Hizbullah, aimed to demonstrate to Hariri that he could not make unilateral decisions without his March 14 Christian allies.