Schools and universities closed as Sfeir calls on parties to get back to talks
by Youssef Hourany
Maronite Patriarch and the new religious leader of the Druze community reiterate the need for dialogue. Unlike Arab League Secretary Moussa, Parliamentary Speaker Berri is more optimistic about prospects. Aoun and Geagea instead continue trading accusations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Schools and universities did not open today following last week’s bloody clashes. In a tense atmosphere some attempts at mediation are underway, beginning with that launched by Saudi Arabia and in his appeals Maronite Patriarch was joined on Sunday by the new leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Nahim Hasan.

Politically, a statement by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri raised some hope. But Even though he is ready to renew his mediation effort, the Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa remains pessimistic. Nothing new instead in the Christian camp where general Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea are still trading accusations despite their public readiness to follow the line set by Maronite bishops.

“What we have experienced is an offence against man and the nation,” said Patriarch Sfeir during Sunday mass in Bkerke by way of condemning the acts of violence and those involved. “What was happening in Paris shows that the world, starting with France, appreciates more our country and is a measure of our lack of conscience, our superficiality and our ignorance,” he lamented.

Cardinal Sfeir renewed his plea for dialogue, the only way worthy of Lebanon’s noble tradition. He expressed concern over statements by some who continue to criticise the donors’ conference, warning that another wave of violence might destroy hopes and force more people to emigrate.

The patriarch welcomed the new religious leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Nahim Hasan, and in front of his guest reiterated the need to double the efforts to lead the country out of its current crisis.

For his part, the Druze leader said he hoped that a summit of Christian and Muslim religious leaders could be organised to find a just a lasting solution.

Hasan again expressed his high esteem for Patriarch Sfeir “who represents a guarantee, not only for Christians, but for all Lebanese.” He further reaffirmed his conviction in Islamic-Christian coexistence remembering the teachings of John Paul II in his post-synod apostolic exhortation.

Meanwhile the Paris conference, where donors pledged some US$ 7.6 billions in aid, continues to produce positive and negative reactions in Lebanon.

Michel Aoun reaffirmed his warning against the possible permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon whilst stressing the need to go back to the initiative launched by the country’s Maronite bishops. In their initiative the bishops are trying to find common ground among Christian leaders. At the same time General Aoun continues to accuse the Lebanese Forces and their leader Samir Geagea of being responsible for last week’s incidents. He also expressed his gratitude to the Holy See and Pope Benedict XVI for the plea in favour of peace in Lebanon he made yesterday.

For his part, Geagea harshly criticised Aoun and the political stance he represents. “He is leading Lebanon’s Christians in a ruinous direction”, Geagea warned. In his opinion the recent wave of violence in Lebanon is fuelled by Syria and Iran “who do not want to see Lebanon at peace”.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said he was “more optimistic” after he met Saudi Ambassador, Abdul Aziz Khoja, who bore a message from King Abdallah, who is trying to favour a solution to the political crisis.

The Saudi diplomat, who met Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, said that “the situation cannot go on like this,” adding that “the time has come for the Lebanese to sit down and take advantage of the support the world has given them at the Paris conference.”

Berri insisted that Prime Minister Siniora must be convinced to find a solution based on the initiative taken by Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa, who should be back in Lebanon no later than Wednesday, sources close to Berri told AsiaNews.

But in a TV interview Moussa yesterday excluded the possibility that he could be back this week wondering “how can there be any progress in finding a solution when the parties don’t talk to one another”.

Education Minister Khaled Kobbani said that, owing to last week’s clashes and the current chaos, schools and universities were closed today and would remain so till Wednesday.