BKIRKI, Lebanon: Lebanon’s rival Christian leaders “exchanged opinions and ideas” during talks under the sponsorship of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Tuesday, and agreed to “meet whenever the need arises.”
The meeting in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite patriarchate, grouped Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party head Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh.
The participants agreed to hold additional meetings “whenever the need arises,” said a statement at the end of the three-hour talks. The statement described the meeting as having been “brotherly and patriotic.”
Beirut Maronite Bishop Boulos Matar and Maronite archbishop of Antelias Youssef Beshar had also attended the meeting which kicked off at 9 a.m.
Photographers were briefly allowed in to take pictures around 12:30 p.m., after which Rai hosted a luncheon for his guests.
Television footage following the meeting showed Geagea and Gemayel, both from the March 14 coalition, sitting at a large rectangular table facing Aoun and Franjieh, leaders in the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, with Rai at the head of the table.
“The exchange of opinions and ideas came as a preliminary discussion on the current domestic situation and the aspirations of the Lebanese who hold hopes for preserving their country, its future and the future of the [Arab] region,” the statement said.
“An atmosphere of openness and frankness prevailed during the meeting,” it added.
The statement stopped short of saying what issues the leaders had discussed.
However, the statement said that the “issues suggested [for discussion] have been approached based on the distinction between what is agreed upon and what are legitimate political differences.”
Lebanon’s leading Maronite parties are divided between the Future Movement-led March14 alliance and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
Bkirki’s attempt to ease tensions within the Christian community reportedly stems from its fear of the widening schism between the two camps, one siding with the U.S.-French-Saudi axis and the other with the Syrian-Iranian axis.
While March 14 Christian factions have recently escalated their campaign against Hezbollah’s weapons after boycotting the new Cabinet, Hezbollah’s ally, Aoun, continues to quarrel with President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite, over shares in the new government.