Hezbollah deploys delegation to push Patriarch Rai to scrap plans to visit Jerusalem


patriarch-rai-def-4A delegation from Hezbollah is expected to visit Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Tuesday on the occasion of Liberation Day and a time of heated debates over his visit to Jerusalem, reported the Kuwaiti daily al-Anba on Sunday.

The daily said that the delegation will indirectly attempt to persuade the patriarch against making the trip or thank him for canceling it should he do so before Tuesday.

Liberation Day, marking the end of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, falls on May 25.

President Michel Suleiman had recently informed al-Rahi that it was preferable for him not to visit the Holy Land later this month over controversy over the planned trip.

The president also expressed readiness to provide political cover to any stance made by the Maronite patriarchate to go back on the decision to go ahead with the visit.

Al-Rahi had however reportedly defended his decision to accompany Pope Francis to Jerusalem and hinted that he would not change his mind, saying that as Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, it is his duty to welcome the Pope in any country in the region.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Thursday al-Rahi was not part of the official delegation heading to the Holy Land and was going on his own initiative.

Al-Rahi would be the first patriarch to travel to Israel since the Jewish state was created in 1948.