07/20/2022, 12.09
LEBANON
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Maronite Archbishop detained, Hezbollah sends message to Patriarch Rai

by Fady Noun

The prelate of Haifa and Jerusalem, Moussa el-Hage, was stopped at the crossing point on his way back into the country. His passport and mobile phone were confiscated, along with the money entrusted to him by the families of the Lebanese who fled in 2000. The measure was ordered by a magistrate close to the pro-Iranian movement unhappy with the Maronite Patriarch's calls for a non-partisan head of state. The nuncio: A worrying precedent.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The temporary detention of the Archbishop of Haifa and Jerusalem (Holy Land), Moussa el-Hage, on Monday at the General Security headquarters in Nakoura, in southern Lebanon, while the prelate was returning to the country by land, has aroused great indignation in the Maronite community. Both the timing and the unprecedented nature of the case give the impression that Hezbollah wanted to send a message to the Maronite Patriarch Béchara Raï, leaving public opinion with the bitter taste aftertaste of an exploitatiion of justice for political ends. In a statement to local television, the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon, Msgr Josef Spiteri, called the episode a 'dangerous' precedent.

The Maronite archbishop, travelling from his episcopal see in Haifa, was arrested by the security forces at the Ras Naqoura border crossing, which is reserved for clerics and the diplomatic corps. Arriving at 11.30 a.m. escorted as usual by a detachment of the United Nations International Peacekeeping Force (UNIFIL), the bishop was subjected to a lengthy interrogation on his relations with the Lebanese community that took refuge in Israel after the Israeli army withdrew from the border strip it controlled until May 2000. He was only able to continue his journey thanks to the intervention of the Maronite Patriarch and the country's highest judicial authorities. However, he was summoned to appear before the military court today.

According to reliable sources, the security forces confiscated the prelate's passport and mobile phone, and he was forbidden to travel. After a thorough search of his personal belongings, money entrusted to him by the Lebanese who had fled to Israel (about 485,000 dollars) was also confiscated, as well as a large quantity of medicines that he was also carrying for his family members in Lebanon.

The vehicle was intercepted on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the military investigating judge, Fadi Akiki. Married to the niece of Nabih Berry, Speaker of the House and leader of the Amal movement, Akiki remotely monitored the interrogation from Beirut. The bishop strongly protested against the detention, arguing that his mission was purely humanitarian and consisted of allowing families separated by the war to stay in contact, in the hope of one day being able to return to the country and register the births of their children (a right they are deprived of, but which is fundamental for succession).

Druze Sheikh Akl Sami Aboul Mouna contacted Patriarch Rai yesterday to denounce the incident. In fact, a significant part of the money confiscated by the General Security was destined for Druze families.

In view of the seriousness of the facts and after hearing the testimony of Bishop el-Hage, the Maronite Patriarch decided yesterday to postpone his response to this unprecedented incident, pending today's meeting of the restricted Maronite Synod. For Bkerke, the incident is a serious departure from the ethical rules that have always governed relations between the Lebanese State and the Maronite Church, and betrays a worrying drift in the course of justice. The Maronite Patriarch also reportedly asked the bishop not to respond to the summons of the military court.

The incident has all the air of being a political affair, in a context in which the Maronite Patriarch has stepped up criticism of Hezbollah, insisting on calling for a 'non-partisan' candidate for the next head of state. This conditon would exclude both the head of Marada, Sleiman Frangié, and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil,  the two forerunners for the pro-Iranian party, from the presidential race.

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