12/19/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Maronite bishops urge Christian leaders to reconcile

by Youssef Hourany
A special commission is expected to meet Christian political leaders, currently split between majority and opposition. Arab League secretary general should renew his mediation efforts, but the opposition no longer wants a national unity government; instead, it is demanding early elections.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Lebanese Church is offering its assistance to Christian political leaders, split between government and opposition, in order to start a process of reconciliation. Church sources told AsiaNews that a three-member commission within the synod of Maronite bishops is being set up in order to organise meetings between Christian leaders. The commission should include Mgr Samir Mazloum, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate; Mgr Youssef Bechara, archbishop of Antelias of the Maronites; and Mgr Paul Matar, Maronite archbishop of Beirut.

The commission will meet with Maronite leaders, starting with General Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and el-Marada Party leader and former minister Suleiman Frangieh.

The bishops will focus first on reconciling Geagea and Frangieh before convening everyone to a meeting under the chairmanship of Maronite Patriarch, Card Nasrallah Sfeir, and in the presence of all Maronite bishops and superior generals of religious orders.

The same sources told AsiaNews that Patriarch Sfeir wants to achieve this reconciliation before an inter-Maronite meeting is convened. He fears a repeat of a 1976 meeting chaired by then Patriarch Antoine Khoraiche. The meeting between Lebanese Forces leader Bachir Gemayel and Tony Frangieh (father to ex Minister Suleiman Frangieh) ended in failure as well as the tragic killing of Tony Frangieh, his wife and daughter as well as 30 other people at the hands of the Lebanese Forces led by their northern commander, Samir Geagea.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Bechara Rahi, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil, expressed his support for any initiative that would lead the country out of the current crisis that is destroying it. He reiterated the need to listen to the language of reason “far from hatred and the spirit of vengeance”.

He reiterated the position of the Maronite Church, which insists on the need to find a global solution to all of the problems that are undermining the social fabric of Lebanon through dialogue, “the only remedy blessed by God”.

The Maronite bishops’ initiative comes at a moment of great tensions. Today Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa is back in Beirut to continue his mediation. He is expected to discuss with both majority and opposition leaders a plan that would solve the controversial issues of a national unity government and “minority block” as well the setting up of an international tribunal to judge those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other political crimes that occurred in the last two years. Both issues are central to the conflict between majority and opposition.

For the government, backed by the United Nations, the creation of the tribunal remains is a must. But for Lebanon’s opposition led by Hezbollah, a movement backed by Syria and Iran, a government of national unity was no longer an objective; instead, it announced yesterday that they wanted early elections.

Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, who current president Émile Lahoud would like to see as his successor, said that “our priority is no longer a government of national unity, but early elections”. He announced that street protests that began on December 1 would escalate in order to bring down the government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

In light of the situation no one knows what to make of a statement by the Arab League’s ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel Rahman El Silh, who said that an inter-Lebanese agreement could be achieved before the Christmas holiday.

The ambassador added that Saudi Arabia unreservedly supported his initiative.

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