Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Tuesday that the Christians of the Middle East reject any attempt to divide the region into sectarian states, the National News Agency reported. Rai was speaking following a meeting with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in Paris on his first official visit to France.
“For the Lebanese and the Christians of the Middle East, any attempt to divide the Middle East into sectarian states is denounced,” Rai said, adding that the pluralistic composition of the region guarantees dignity and freedom better than any other.
“We suggest, in order to confront sectarianism, the model of the civil state, which separates state and religion, is based on fundamental human rights, recognizes freedoms of belief, and provides a decent and secure life for all minorities,” Raid continued.
Rai addressed the French government stating that the Arab peoples will need its experience and assistance to establish civil states that respect human rights in the countries of the Middle East.
Rai also addressed the risks of the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“We are with the creation of a Palestinian state and we insist on their right of return to their homeland,” he said.
According to Rai, pending a final and fair settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon, they must keep their refugee status and remain under the supervision of UNRWA.
“We call on France to work to guarantee Lebanon’s particular [demographics], as the country cannot under any circumstance allow nationalizing the Palestinian refugees,” Rai said.
“In the midst of the complex and changing geopolitics of the Middle East, we hold on to the pillars of our multifaceted friendship, understanding, and cooperation.”
The patriarch praised UNIFIL’s French contingent, thanking its peacekeeping forces for the sacrifices they’ve made while implementing U.N. resolution 1701.
“We also thank your concern for Lebanese groups residing in countries where France has great presence whenever the need arises to protect them or repatriate them to their country of origin,” Rai said.
Rai also met with a delegation of March 14 forces in Paris and discussed with them the problems facing the Lebanese immigrants in France.
The delegation called on the patriarch to place the issue of the participation of Lebanese expatriates in the 2013 parliamentary elections on the top of the agenda for the upcoming meeting of Christian leaders in Bkirki on Sept. 23.