05/16/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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A new UN resolution is unfortunately necessary, says Sfeir

Issues such Hizbollah's disarmament and Syro-Lebanese borders and diplomatic relations are still unresolved. The country and its Christian leaders are split into two camps. In light of Benedict XVI'S intuition, a dialogue with Islam is possible but only at a human and social level, not in terms of doctrine.

Paris (AsiaNews) – The failure to disarm Hizbollah, draw the boundaries and establish diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria are the reasons that make another United Nations resolution necessary, this according to Card Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church.

In a long interview with French daily La Croix in Paris the day after meeting French President Jacques Chirac, the cardinal spoke about Lebanon's domestic situation and the ongoing 'national dialogue' which is set to restart today in a country divided between, on the one hand, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hizbollah and General Michel Aoun, and, on the other, the March 14 movement "led by Saad Hariri and backed by the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Egypt".

A new resolution on the Lebanese question that the United States and France are preparing for the Security Council "is a necessity because resolutions hitherto adopted have failed."

"Resolution 1559 called on Syrian troops to pull out, which they did, but other clauses—such as Hizbollah's disarmament, establishing diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria, and drawing the borders between the two countries—have not been implemented."

Hizbollah's disarmament was a major sticking point in previous sessions of the 'national dialogue' and will be so again in today's session. For the cardinal though, "we must find a compromise. It can be found perhaps through a frank and open dialogue or through foreign pressure as long as it is not violent."

Sfeir reaffirmed in fact his opposition to the use of violence when he talked about two other burning issues, namely intra-Maronite divisions and the disputed extension of the current president's mandate.

"They should find an agreement," he said when talking about tensions between Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea,"who so far have failed to do", adding that "past divisions have led to bad defeats".

On the issue of President Émile Lahoud's mandate, which was extended in 2004 by another three years as a result of Syrian pressure, the patriarch said he was against it "because in the past such moves never brought anything good to the country". But "now it's done," he said, and although "some have tried to force him [Lahoud] to resign, I am against it because it is dangerous for Lebanon and people would get hurt again."

Cardinal Sfeir also spoke about the repercussions of regional tensions on the country. "They [tensions] will continue," he said, "as long as a Palestinian state is not set up that has good relations with Israel."

"Relations between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are at difficult point," he explained. "All Lebanese realise that they must live together despite real difficulties and should not split along confessional lines. Muslims themselves say that without Christians Lebanon would not be Lebanon."

"As John Paul II put it, Lebanon is an example of pluralism and democracy, a country where people can live together and accept one another. It is an example for Europe as well, since Muslims are already living there, everywhere."

As for Islam, the Patriarch stressed what Benedict XVI said, namely that "a dialogue between Christians and Muslims is possible at a human and social level, but has no future in the area of doctrine since each religion has its own. We are all believers, but Muslims have their notion of God and we have ours."
In the meantime, the influential Lebanese daily L'Orient Le jour wrote that the national dialogue "will resume as always, in a political climate that is highly charged, despite moderately successful attempts by National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri to defuse tensions".

The issue of the president's mandate will be on the agenda, "for the last time according to some". "In light of previous failures, no one expects anything to come of it. Now all are turning their attention towards Hizbollah's disarmament."

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