09/30/2010, 00.00
LEBANON - VATICAN
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Maronite Patriarchate warns of “tension rising” to the point of conflict in Lebanon

by Fady Noun
There is a growing conflict between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah because the UN tribunal allegations that - they say - condemn Hezbollah for having contributed to the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The bishops are preparing to go to Rome for the Synod of the Middle East, but a war between Sunnis and Shiites is feared.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The Maronite Patriarchate has warned the whole country against "rising tension" that rages between the majority and Hezbollah which could erupt into street clashes.

The Maronite Church warning is contained in the communiqué from the monthly meeting of the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, gathered under the chairmanship of the card. Nasrallah Sfeir.

"The bishops - says the statement - have reviewed the situation in Lebanon. They are seriously alarmed by the growing tension between the different factions of the country, which threatens to turn into a community war”.

The alarm comes as the gap between the majority – led of course by Prime Minister Saad Hariri - and Hezbollah widens. Two days ago, on behalf of Hezbollah, Ghaleb Abu Zainab, from the Hezbollah Political Council, said that he opposes Lebanon's financing of the UN tribunal in charge of the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, with Beirut covering 49% of its costs.

His position directly contradicts that of the Prime Minister, who yesterday said that it is important "not to forget the blood of the martyr Rafik Hariri."

The internal crisis has revolved around the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (TSL) for weeks now. Hezbollah accuses the TSL of being "in the pay of Israel" and fear that the TSL will accuse them of being implicated in the murder, an eventuality that was never openly expressed nor confirmed by the court, which is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

This possibility raises fears of the worst. The Maronite MP Sleiman Frangieh, a personal friend of Syrian President Bashar el-Assad last week warned that an indictment of Hezbollah would mean war between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon.

For his part, Walid Mouallem, Syrian Foreign Minister, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal said: "We believe that a condemnation of Hezbollah by the TSL will be a major factor in the problems in Lebanon."

The tension is rising just as most of the country's Catholic bishops are preparing to travel to Rome to participate in the work of the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East, due to be held at the Vatican October 10 to 24.

In diplomatic circles it is rumoured that the indictment of the tribunal will be released "later this year." Will peace in Lebanon resist until then? Any conflict would mean that the umbrella policy provided by Syria and Saudi Arabia to Lebanon has been destroyed. Is that possible? Could Hezbollah be bluffing? These are the questions that nearly all Lebanese are asking themselves, but so far no answers have been found.

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