Beirut (AsiaNews) – For over two week the Maronite Church has been involved in strenuous efforts to reclaim large areas of land which has been taken over by part of the Shiite population of Lassa, a village in the district of Jbeil Mount Lebanon. The affair erupted when official land surveyors tried survey land on which stands a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. Since 2011 the building has been used, against the advice of the Church as a place of worship for women. In spite of all the past efforts to regulate this sensitive and highly symbolic issue the chapel key was never returned to the Church. For several days the population has prevented the team, with the threat of arms, from carrying out the survey.
The conflict has ancient roots, some details date as far back as the nineteenth century. So the Shiites population claims that the Maronite chapel was already a Shiite place of worship. The Maronite Patriarchate, for its part argues that the plot of land was purchased by the Maronite Church in the nineteenth century, as supported by documents such as title deeds and cadastral surveys dating to 1939. These are the facts that the Church seeks to confirm today, once and for all, with the help of the Lebanese state.
The use of threats by the Shiite population of Lassa has awakened feelings of confessional hostility in Maronite environments. Nurtured by certain personalities this anger has begun to manifest itself. To avoid exacerbating these feelings the patriarchate of Bkerke called a meeting involving all parties concerned, including representatives of Hezbollah and the Amal Shiite movement. The patriarch chaired the meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the police and army. Closing the meeting, and confirming his original direction, the Patriarchate has appointed a commission to resolve the legal problem, expressing the desire to confine the issue to a strictly legal framework and avoid any political and confessional drift.
Legal documents show that the land belongs to the Maronite Church in the village where a Shiite majority and a Maronite minority coexist in about 3.6 million square meters, divided into 95 plots. The plots were registered in 1939. Over 80 cases of trespassing on land belonging to the Maronite Church have been registered, in the form of illegal construction or unauthorised agricultural use. Most buildings were built at the beginning of this century, thanks to the mayor's illegal authorization of the village and with the passive complicity of the local police, responsible for repressing violations of construction law.
Moreover, not content with occupying the Church land illegally, the Shiite population prevents the development of Christian farmers on their own uncontested agricultural land. To the point that one of them was beaten and kicked off the land that he had rented. The lawyers of the Patriarchate, who are in direct contact with a Hezbollah official, Ghaleb Abu Zeinab, ensure that this party does not give political cover to the families illegally occupying the property of the Maronite Church, and that an attitude of firmness is required by all so that justice is done.
At present this is the situation. The cadastral surveys have been suspended, waiting, as usual, for the political forces to take the necessary steps, within the village, in favour of a compromise. But what compromise are they speaking about? Will force eventually win over justice? The antagonistic political forces spy on each other, they watch each other, while the fire smoulders beneath.