Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai reiterated his previous positions on Hezbollah’s arms and Syria during the Christian-Muslim summit in Dar al-Fatwa, MTV reported on Tuesday.
“I did not justify the presence of Hezbollah’s arms, but I reiterated Hezbollah’s justification for the existence of its arms,” the station quoted him as saying.
The Patriarch also addressed the situation in Syria, saying that he does not want a civil war to break out in the unrest-hit country, the report added.
“If a civil war takes place in Syria it will happen between Sunnis and Alawites, and Lebanon will be affected since it is organically tied to Syria,” the station also quoted him as saying.
MTV reported that the Maronite Patriarch expressed his fears over the rise of extremist rule in Syria that would lead the Alawites to call for their own state, adding that “this will result in Christian emigration.”
Meanwhile, LBC television reported that Rai said during the meeting that he called on France to work on fixing ties between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and former PM Saad Hariri.
The Patriarch also called on Paris to encourage Hariri to return to Beirut, following his six-month absence from Lebanon.
Rai came under fire earlier this month from the opposition March 14 parties but won praise from March 8 politicians for indirectly defending Hezbollah’s arms and linking the party’s arsenal to the termination of Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland . Even MP Walid Jumblatt who defected from March 14 alliance was very critical of Rai’s statements.
Rai emphasized during a trip to Paris that “only when the international community exerts pressure on Israel to vacate the occupied Lebanese territory ( the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba hills and the Lebanese part of the disputed border village of Ghajar ) and Israel allows Palestinians in Lebanon to return to their homes, can Hezbollah be asked to hand over its arms because they will no longer be needed.”
Rai added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “open-minded” and should be given more chances to implement the reforms he already announced.
The patriarch claimed after returning to Lebanon that the remarks he made while in Paris “were taken out of context and have nothing to do” with his personal opinion.
Assad’s regime has cracked down on a string of unprecedented protests across his country, killing more than 2,700 civilian protesters since the uprising began in March, according to the United Nations.