Lebanon's top patriarch faces Hezbollah criticizm over planned Jerusalem trip
Hezbollah said Friday that a controversial visit that Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai plans to make to occupied Jerusalem later this month would have negative consequences for Lebanon, adding that it hoped Rai would take the party’s opinion into consideration.
A Hezbollah delegation expressed its stance on the upcoming trip during a meeting with Rai at the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki.
“We spoke about the perils and the negative consequences of the visit on the Lebanese level and on [its results regarding the] Zionist entity [Israel] and the region,” Sayyed Ibrahim Amin Sayyed, head of Hezbollah’s political council, said after the visit.
“We hope that our position will be taken into account,” added Sayyed, who headed the Hezbollah delegation that visited Rai.
“We are used to discuss things directly with the patriarch, and we explained to him our opinion on the visit to the Holy Land,” Sayyed said.
He said that Rai had cited religious considerations for his visit, particularly in terms of the significance of Jerusalem for Christians, aside from the political fallout.
Sayyed said that his party was not suspicious of the goals Rai aimed to fulfill with his visit.
Later in the day, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem described Rai’s visit as a “problem” in a television interview.
It is the first time Hezbollah has commented on Rai’s trip, which sparked a controversy in the country when announced in early May.
The delegation included Ghaleb Abu Zainab, a member of Hezbollah’s political council, and politburo member Mustafa al-Hajj Ali.
Rai has said he would join Pope Francis during a tour of the Holy Land on May 24-26, a visit that would make Rai the first Maronite patriarch to travel to Israel since it was founded in 1948.
Many in Lebanon said the visit would effectively represent a normalization of ties with Israel, which is in a state of war with Lebanon.
But Rai has defended his trip, saying its main aim was to stress the Arab identity of occupied Jerusalem and to encourage Palestinian Christians to retain their land.
The Vatican last week said Rai’s visit was a personal initiative and that he was not part of the official delegation touring the Holy Land.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned Rai earlier this month and praised his planned visit, saying it contributed to solidifying the Arab identity of Palestine and occupied Jerusalem and bolstered Muslim-Christian brotherhood. The Palestinian leader denied that Rai’s step represented a normalization of ties with Israel.
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