03/16/2021, 12.56
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First approach between Hezbollah and the Maronite patriarch

by Fady Noun

After weeks of tensions over the internationalisation of Lebanon’s crisis and the proposed UN conference, the parties open talks. For Hares Chehab, neutrality is a complex issue that needs to be explored. The Shia party’s weapons remain a stumbling block. The two sides pledge to meet again.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – “The resumption of talks between the Maronite patriarchate and Hezbollah last week was an event in itself,” said lawyer Hares Chehab, co-chairman of the National Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue, speaking to AsiaNews. Along with Maronite patriarchal vicar Bishop Samir Mazloum, he led talks with two members of Hezbollah's political bureau, Mohammad Saïd Khansa and Mustapha Hajj Ali.

“The lack of personal contact is detrimental to dialogue,” Chehab said. “It unintentionally creates a feeling of estrangement and coldness.” This “had to be dispelled and we have done it. The meeting prepares the ground for more elaborate discussions.”

The same feeling, it seems, is found on Hezbollah’s side. According to analyst Kassem Kassir, who is close to this party. The latter “wished to express its satisfaction by publishing a press release and a photo of the meeting, which never happened in the past.“

For the past few weeks, Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi has been calling for an international conference under the aegis of the United Nations to address the crisis in Lebanon, a proposal for internationalisation considered with suspicion by Hezbollah.

The prelate has also defended the principle of  neutrality to which he now wishes to confer a constitutional character.

The meeting of the joint committee was meant to ease the tensions between the patriarchate and the popular base of Hezbollah, revived since a large-scale rally took place on 27 February, during which the head of the Maronite Church attacked, without naming it, the armed Shia party.

“We have talked broadly about neutrality,” Chehab explained, “and I can assure you that they are able to listen and are ready to discuss it. “

“I did not get the impression that they are embarrassed by the patriarch's campaign (in favour of neutrality and an international conference on Lebanon, under the aegis of the UN),” said the lawyer, “but it is certain that neutrality is a complex issue that still needs to be explored, even by our side, in order to know its ins and outs at the constitutional level. Before we meet again, we will work on it.”

On the other hand, Mr. Chehab clarified that at no time were Hezbollah weapons discussed, except in the following terms: “'What is the best way to defend Lebanon?' A question to which Hezbollah has, of course, a ready-made answer.

“There was also talk about Pope Francis' visit to Iraq and his meeting with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's highest Shia authority. Our interlocutors were sensitive to the testimony given to him by the Pope, when he said that he ‘felt honoured’ to meet a ‘wiseman (…) who did good to his soul’,” Chehab added.

“I also felt that they sincerely want to see a new government formed as a matter of urgency, given the prevailing economic conditions.”

They do not understand, however, “why some members of the political class reject as a whole, even before considering it, everything that Iran proposes” to help Lebanon.

Hezbollah deemed the meeting “excellent”, said Kassem Kassir, and the party considers “that it sets the stage for future meetings, especially since the subject of neutrality is complex and not summed up in a few words,” he added.

“We fear international interference in Lebanon,” said Ahmad Qabalan, the Jaafarite (Shia) mufti of Lebanon.

“The issue of positive neutrality proposed by Patriarch al-Rahi was raised and the leaders (of the joint committee) agreed to continue discussions at subsequent meetings,” said the Hezbollah statement issued after the meeting.

Pictured: The joint Patriarchate-Hezbollah Dialogue Committee: Hares Chehab, Samir Mazloum, Mohammad Said Khansa and Mustapha Hajj Ali (left to right).

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