“Our heart and the hearts of everyone were bloodied by the martyrdom of the activist Lokman Mohsen Slim,” said Cardinal Rai. “His assassination is an assassination of the other, free opinion and a new motive to put an end to every illegal weapon gradually eradicating the fine figures of the country.”
BEIRUT – Lebanon’s top Christian cleric Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, called on Sunday for organising a UN-sponsored international conference on Lebanon with the aim of controlling the spread of weapons, in an apparent reference to Hezbollah’s arsenal.
The Maronite patriarch’s latest statements, made during his Sunday sermon, came following the assassination of prominent Lebanese publisher and vocal critic of the Shia Hezbollah group Lokman Slim, who was found shot dead in his car last week.
The brazen killing had sparked fears of a return to political violence in the country, already gripped by social and economic upheaval.
Following the assassination, Slim’s family hinted that Hezbollah was behind the killing, without naming the group, adding that it is known who controls the area where their relative was found dead.
“Killing for them is a habit,” Slim’s sister Rasha al-Ameer said. Hezbollah and its allies dominate the area in southern Lebanon.
While calling for organising an international conference on Lebanon, Rai stressed the need to stabilise the country within its modern constitutional frameworks that are based on unity. The Christian leader also insisted on the need to provide permanent guarantees to protect the country, prevent any aggression against it, preserve legitimacy and put an end to the spread of weapons.
In recent months, Rai has been the most vocal Lebanese figure in pleading against the spread of illegal weapons, while other opposition and religious figures appeared reluctant to tackle the issue.
The Lebanese people, including the opposition, know that they cannot force Hezbollah to abandon its arsenal unless there is real international pressure.
For years, Lebanon has been paying a heavy price for Hezbollah’s weapons on different levels. On the domestic front, the weapons give the group the upper hand in politics and decision-making while on the international front, the arsenal is viewed as a serious threat to the region and a number of Arab countries.
Today, Hezbollah is in fact fighting battles on behalf of Tehran and is making its military presence felt on several fronts, including Syria and Yemen.
In his sermon, Rai warned that Lebanon is at a critical juncture, noting that there are attempts to undermine the state.
“The people are not sheep to slaughter in your slaughterhouses,” he said, addressing Lebanese officials.
Rai added, “Those with authority are in one place with their interests, calculations and power shares, and the people are in another place with their poverty, deprivation and hunger.”
“Our people are dying, and the state is indifferent. All the countries of the world expressed sympathy with the people of Lebanon except their state,” he said, asking“ Is there a greater crime than this? ”
Rai’s statements echoed a state of despair in the country over the prospect of political parties finding a solution to the double crisis afflicting Lebanon, on political and economic levels. The Maronite patriarch has previously proposed several initiatives to rescue the country, including the active neutrality initiative, of which he sent a copy to the United Nations.
Since its establishment, Lebanon has been dragged into regional conflicts due to its sensitive geopolitical position.
Observers believe that the country’s geography alone cannot be responsible for its ongoing crisis. Lebanon’s political elite, observers say, are the ones to blame for the current situation that has been exacerbated by a fierce power struggle and continuous political disputes.
All the above factors, according to observers, have thwarted efforts aimed at reaching a consensus to form a new government since the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government last August following the Beirut Port explosion.
In such a context, Rai’s call is seen as a last cry to save Lebanon from its political class and Hezbollah’s weapons.
The risks, observers say, can no longer be overlooked as the situation in the country is gradually worsening, resulting in serious incidents, including a return to assassinations.
In his sermon the Maronite patriarch condemned Slim’s assassination, saying “We are fed up with wars, strife and the use of arms. We are fed up with assassinations, and over the past two days.”
“Our heart and the hearts of everyone were bloodied by the martyrdom of the activist Lokman Mohsen Slim,” he added.
“His assassination is an assassination of the other, free opinion and a new motive to put an end to every illegal weapon gradually eradicating the fine figures of the country,” Rai went on to say.
He demanded an investigation be held into the circumstances of Slim’s assassination to reveal the party that was behind “this heinous political crime.”
Slim, 58, was a fearless critic of Lebanon’s powerful politicians, Hezbollah and its allies Iran and Syria, and a major resource on Lebanese civil war history. His killing has raised fears that Lebanon’s political tensions could cause a new wave of assassinations.
Slim founded Umam, a research and film production house with a library documenting Lebanon’s and Shia history. His family owns a publishing house and Slim hosted public debates and political forums and art shows, including exhibitions documenting the civil war’s missing.
He and his wife worked on a film documenting the atrocities of Syria’s notorious Tadmor prison.
Slim was previously targeted by Hebzollah supporters who accused him of sowing sedition, undermining national unity and being a Zionist because of his criticism of the Iran-backed Shia group.
In 2019, a group of young men attacked Slim during a public debate at the height of anti-government protests. Slim at the time accused Hezbollah supporters of being behind the attack.
Slim also accused Hezbollah supporters days before that attack of threatening him at his home, holding rallies and hanging posters on its walls accusing him of treason.
Alex Rowell, editor of the English language al-Jumhuriya website, said Slim always believed he was safe from physical harm. His killing will leave many unable to sleep easily in Lebanon, Rowell said.
“In the memory of Lokman’s fearless grin, however, they may find courage — and in the silhouettes of his cowardly murderers they may know their enemy,” he said.