Card Al-Rahi slams Hezbollah for attacking Israel
The stance taken by the head of the Maronite Church rekindles the intra-Lebanese debate over the weapons held by the pro-Iranian party. The situation along the southern border of the country is very dangerous. The cardinal calls on the Lebanese military and UN forces to take control of southern Lebanon.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi slammed Hezbollah for launching a rocket attack against a border area controlled by the Israeli army. In his Sunday homily, the Maronite Patriarch also challenged the Shia party's right to take unilateral military action, independent of government decisions.
Hezbollah's attack followed an Israeli air strike against an uninhabited mountainous area near the Druze village of Chouaya in response to an unclaimed rocket attack from Lebanon against the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. In the end, the latter turned out to be the work of uncontrolled Palestinian elements.
Praised by a broad segment of the public, the position taken by the Maronite Patriarch broke with the total silence shown by Lebanese authorities in the matter. Lebanon merely complained to the United Nations against the Israeli bombing that led to Hezbollah's response.
The Church leader's words sparked a violent smear campaign on social media by those close to the pro-Iranian movement, who accuse him of wanting to “normalise” relations with Israel.
Claiming that the Israeli air strike failed to uphold the tacit rules of engagement established in 2006, Hezbollah on Friday bombed part of the uninhabited mountainous area targeted by the Israel sir strike. Israel then responded to Hezbollah’s fire with another round of artillery, still targeting the disputed no-man's-land.
In a speech on Saturday evening, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah warned the Israelis that each of their strikes will have an appropriate and "well-studied" response.
“You bombed open areas, so we bombed open areas,” he said. “We always say — we do not want war. But we are not afraid of it,” he stressed.
Contrary to Hezbollah’s desire to maintain “existing rules of engagement” and the “balance of terror" with Israel, Patriarch Al-Rahi stressed, backed by legal and constitutional arguments, “the primacy of the decisions of the central State according to the interests of Lebanon”.
“We stand with our compatriots in the South to denounce the tension (at the border),” said the prelate. “They have had enough, and are perfectly right about wars, deaths, exoduses and destruction”.
In fact, residents of the predominantly Druze village of Chouaya stopped the lorry loaded with rocket launchers travelling through the village back from its mission. Residents harassed and insulted the people in the vehicle.
The head of the Maronite Church went on to say that he “cannot accept, in the name of the equality of all before the law, that a party should claim for itself the right to make decisions about war and peace outside the law represented by the Council of Ministers, in accordance with Article 65 of the Constitution.”
“It is true that Lebanon has not signed a peace agreement with Israel,” the cardinal explained, “but it is equally true that it has not decided to go to war with it and remains committed to the armistice agreement of 1949.”
The Patriarch equally noted that Lebanon is “engaged today in negotiations with Israel over offshore oil and gas exploration”.
He further urged the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to take control of the entire southern territory, to strictly apply resolution 1701 (adopted in 2006 to re-establish a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon), and, above all, to prevent the launching of rockets from Lebanese territory, not so much to preserve the security of Israel but rather that of Lebanon.
“We want to put an end to the logic of war in favour of that of peace and the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” he further pleaded.
In a note, UNIFIL said that the situation in the area was “very dangerous”, calling on all parties to accept a ceasefire.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday accused Hezbollah of trying to drag Lebanon into a war against Israel.
“It is less important to us whether it is a Palestinian organisation or rogue factions. The State of Israel will not accept firing into its territory,” Bennett said.
Lebanon must rein in the terrorists shooting rockets at Israel, regardless of who they are, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett added.
On the ground, calm has returned but the incident has revived the debate within Lebanon around the weapons of the pro-Iranian Shia party.