Card Rahi tries to mediate with Gulf diplomats over expulsions and Hezbollah

The Maronite patriarch held talks in Bkerké with Gulf Cooperation Council ambassadors. For the prelate, disputes need "political solutions" and wars must end. Diplomats stress that no Lebanese citizen was expelled without a legal basis. Still relations remain tense.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi met today with the ambassadors from Gulf Cooperation Council (GC) members (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar) at Bkerké, seat of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Maronites.

The head of the Maronite Church stressed the importance of maintaining good relations between Lebanon and the Gulf states at a time of unprecedented diplomatic crises between Sunnis and Shias, in particular between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The meeting comes at a time of "great tensions" between Lebanon and Gulf states. As relations deteriorate, the region’s governments have threatened to expel Lebanese nationals and block bank accounts.

Recently, Saudi Arabia halted US$ 4 billion in assistance to the Lebanese army and security forces, whilst GCC states have labelled Hezbollah and its members as terrorists.

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates jailed three Lebanese for setting up a group affiliated with the Lebanese Shia movement. After serving a six-month sentence, they will be expelled.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is the main bone of contention. Gulf States, Saudi Arabia included, loathe the Shia armed group, whose influence has grown in Lebanon over the past few decades.

Backed by Iran, the so-called party of God has propped up Syrian President Assad, sending troops to fight against the al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda) and the Islamic State (IS) group, inflicting major defeats on both.

Last month, the Arab League declared the Lebanese Shia movement as a terrorist organisation, after a similar move by Arab Gulf states for its alleged involvement in Yemen and Iraq.

"We have lived together, Christians and Muslims, on this sacred land, for over 1,400 years in spite of difficulties," Patriarch Rahi told the diplomats. “It is imperative to end clashes and wars by finding political solutions,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Kuwaiti Ambassador Abdel Aal Kínai said that Gulf states back Lebanese migrants. He denied that there is any crisis with Lebanon.

Although there are differences over Hezbollah, “no Lebanese national has been expelled without legal motive”.

For his part, the Maronite patriarch concluded describing the current situation as "a passing cloud" that should not tarnish ties “with some of your countries”.