Hezbollah advises Maronite Patriarch against Jerusalem visit

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Published Friday, May 16, 2014

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement said Friday it had warned the Maronite patriarch of the "negative repercussions" of his plan to accompany Pope Francis to Israeli-occupied Jerusalem this month.

"We presented our perspective and point of view and laid out what we see as the negative repercussions of this visit," Ibrahim Amin al-Sayed, head of the group's political council, said after meeting Patriarch Beshara al-Rai.

Sayed said the group hoped "that this perspective is taken into account."

Rai is set to become the first Maronite patriarch to visit Jerusalem since it came under full Israeli control after the 1967 war.

The decision to join Pope Francis on his May 24-26 trip has caused some controversy in Lebanon, which is technically at war with Israel.

Rai has defended the visit as a purely religious matter, and said he has a duty to welcome the pope in Jerusalem.

"The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him," Rai told AFP this month.

Hezbollah had previously declined to comment on the trip, although a leading pro-resistance newspaper called it a "historic sin."

Sayed said the group understood Rai's intentions, "but we talked about the risks and drawbacks of the trip in terms of repercussions at the level of Lebanon and of the Israeli entity," he said.

Despite the Israel travel ban, Lebanon's Maronite clergy are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to around 10,000 faithful there.

Rai's deputy Boulos Sayyah, who will accompany him, has said the patriarch would not participate in any political meetings in Israel but will meet Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

The Maronite church has its roots in the early 5th century and is named after a hermit, St. Maroun.

It has its own distinct theology, spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law but is in full communion with Rome.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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