Maronite Patriarch says Hezbollah divided Lebanese
Written by Malek supports the stands of our Patriarch His beatitude Mar Bisharah Al Rai.

The Daily Star, BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai criticized Hezbollah's intervention in the war raging in neighboring Syria, saying it has "embarrassed" the Lebanese and "divided" the people. "The [Lebanese] state had adopted a dissociation policy. Hezbollah made the decision [to enter Syria] and divided the people," Rai said in an interview with UAE-based Sky News Arabia, aired on Friday. In 2012, rival political leaders signed the Baabda Declaration calling for “keeping Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and sparing it of the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises." It came to be known as Lebanon's disassociation policy.

Lebanon remains sharply split over the conflict in Syria, which erupted in 2011. While Hezbollah and some of its allies back the Syrian government, their rivals support some of the rebel groups fighting against it. "We can't say anything definite in this matter. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese structure. It's a party with arms, present in the Parliament, the Cabinet and the administration," Rai said. "I am a citizen and my partner is too, but I am defenseless [and] he is armed," the patriarch added. Several local parties have repeatedly called on Hezbollah to surrender its arms to the Lebanese state, which they say are illegitimate. "If Hezbollah wasn't included in the Parliament we would look at the matter in a different way.

" Rai also expressed concern over the ongoing war in Syria, adding that the Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon make up more than half of the population. "What will remain from Lebanon?" he asked. 1.03 million Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon and there are an estimated 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, with an estimated 65 percent of them believed to be living below the local poverty line. A further 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinian refugees have fled the conflict in Syria to Lebanon in recent years. “The wars in Syria and Iraq should end and refugees should return to their homeland, it’s their right,” Rai added.

By Gulf news Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer - In January, Lebanese President Aoun travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, on his first presidential foreign visit.

Lebanese hoped the visit would restore vital economic ties and that Saudi Arabia would give Lebanon $3 billion (Dh11 billion) to purchase French weapons for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) which it had previously withheld after Jibran Bassil, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who heads the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement, voted against the unanimous Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation resolutions that condemned the January 5, 2016 Iranian attacks on Saudi missions in Iran.

However, a planned follow-up visit by King Salman to Lebanon was cancelled after Aoun praised Hezbollah and backed the militia’s right to bear arms alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) during an interview with Egyptian TV.

Al Rai’s comments reveal widespread fear in the country over Hezbollah’s arms — the Cardinal called the situation “abnormal”.

Aside from maverick former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, other Lebanese politicians notably did not comment on Al Rai’s interview, reflecting a deep fear in the country to speak out against Hezbollah.

Rifi, a Sunni politician from Tripoli who does not miss an opportunity to lash out at Iran and Syria, backed the Cardinal and emphasised the importance of upholding the sovereignty of the nation.

“Hezbollah’s weapons are being used by Iran as a tool for chaos to achieve expansionist ambitions,” he said, adding that they directly negate the interests of Lebanon, its stability and its relations with Arab states.