03/30/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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Sfeir: Syria continues to impede Lebanese development

by Youssef Hourany
In an interview, the Cardinal speaks about Damascus’ moves to block the International Tribunal, he reveals he asked Lahoud to resign and maintains that the Hezbollah alliance is being sought by Aoun in his efforts to become President of the Republic.

Beirut (AsiaNews) –  Syria, which continues to block Lebanon’s progression, the President of the Republic Emile Lahoud, who refuses to step down but instead continues to create controversy, Michel Aoun, who has al lied himself to Hezbollah for his political aims to become the next head of state.  Embittered by the outcome of the Arab League, that only served to highlight the divergence in Lebanese quarters, the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir today hit out at all the above in an interview with the Kuwait based al-Rai newspaper, abandoning his usual caution.

In the interview Card. Sfeir among other things revealed that he has twice asked Lahoud  who “spends his time in controversy with his critics” to step down from leadership: once in person, at Christmas a second time in writing via his Vicar General  Msgr Roland Abou Jawde. “I told the president who was sitting next to me here during Christmas that the country needs a salvation step, even at the expense of your term (in office). Later I sent him a written message with one of my aides urging him to abdicate, but …,”.

Notably UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon is visiting Beirut today for a series of meetings with Lebanon’s political leaders, but he will not greet President Lahoud.

Sfeir’s comments seem to be aimed at the outcome of the Arab summit in Riyadh, which firmly pushed the Lebanese crises to a second place.  The Patriarch revealed that the presence of two separate Beirut delegations  – one led by Lahoud, the other by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora – “has hurt the country”, by highlighting the countries divisions. Card. Sfeir  adds that “Syria left Lebanon, but maintains its existence in it through its (intelligence) agencies and pressures … Syria did not accept what has happened and seeks a return to Lebanon”.

Moreover Syria, “practices huge pressure on the group affiliated with it to hamper the international tribunal and prevent internal entente”.  He explains that Syria fears the formation of the tribunal, wanted by the UN, which should find those responsible for the assassination of the ex premier  Rafic Hariri as well as other political target killings in Lebanon, “because it is the chief suspect”. But “this tribunal is necessary if we are to see an end to these deaths and justice be done”.  

He then asks “What is the purpose of this division that we are witnessing? What is the aim of this sit-in and these tents that have been erected in (public) squares?”, recalling the sit-in organized by Hezbollah, which has been blocking the centre of Beirut since early December, causing the commercial heart of the city to close down and many Lebanese, both Muslim and Christian to immigrate

The Cardinal concludes by expressing his disappointment in the divisions between the Christian political leaders and maintains that Aoun “has an understanding with Hezbullah, assuming that he will have the party's backing to be chosen president”.

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