Lebanon’s top Christian cleric rejects military involvement in Israel-Palestine conflict

Lebanon should not become a 'launching pad for missiles', said Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai

Maronite church leader Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai said there were peaceful ways for Lebanese to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Reuters
Maronite church leader Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai said there were peaceful ways for Lebanese to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Reuters

Lebanon’s leading Christian cleric Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai on Sunday rejected Lebanese involvement in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians after days of violent protests in solidarity with Palestinians at the Lebanese-Israeli border.

“We call on authorities in Lebanon to control the Lebanese-Israeli borders and prevent Lebanese territory from becoming a launching pad for missiles,” the Maronite patriarch said.

The Israeli military reported that three rockets were launched from south Lebanon towards Israel on Thursday, causing no damage. Three other rockets were fired on Friday from Syria towards Israel, with one landing inside Syria. In both cases, it was unclear who fired the rockets.

What the Palestinians are exposed to is heart-wrenching, especially that children, women and the elderly are among the victims

Patriarch Bechara Boutros al Rai

Israeli air strikes in Gaza, which have killed 181, including 52 children, have caused anger in Lebanon.

The small Mediterranean country is home to a large Palestinian refugee population who fled successive Arab-Israeli conflicts. Lebanon is technically at war with Israel since its creation in 1948, and its most powerful political party, Iran-backed Hezbollah, views Israel as its arch-enemy.

Demonstrations were held in recent days at the heavily militarised Lebanese-Israeli border, with protesters attempting to climb the border wall and throwing Molotov cocktails into Israel on Saturday.

Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and warning shots. Lebanese media reported that three protesters were wounded.

On Friday, Hezbollah member Mohammad Tahan, 21, was shot dead by the Israeli army during a smaller protest.

Scuffles also erupted between protesters and the Lebanese Army, which set up checkpoints in an attempt to prevent Palestinians travelling from refugee camps across Lebanon to the border.

“Beware that some are involved directly or through auxiliary parties in what is happening and exposing Lebanon to new wars,” said Patriarch Al Rai during his Sunday sermon, in an apparent reference to Hezbollah, which denied organising the protests.

“All the Lebanese have paid enough due to these uncontrolled conflicts. The Lebanese people are not ready to destroy their country again any more than it already is,” said Patriarch Al Rai.

“There are peaceful ways of [expressing] solidarity with the Palestinian people without getting involved militarily. It is Lebanon’s duty to be balanced between neutrality, which preserves its safety and message, and its commitment to upholding the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Patriarch Al Rai criticised Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

“What the Palestinians are exposed to is heart-wrenching, especially that children, women and the elderly are among the victims,” he said. “The time has come to stop the cycle of violence, demolition and killing and to endorse a final solution to the Palestinian issue after 73 years of wars, destruction and Israeli oppression.”

Updated: May 16, 2021 04:18 PM

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