Lebanese Official: Patriarch Sfeir’s anti-Syrian Campaign will Put Region on Fire

Published December 3rd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

By Nabil Al Mulhem  

Albawaba.com – Damascus 


A Lebanese official has described a recent statement by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir renouncing Syrian presence in Lebanon as “the spark that will put things on fire.”  

In an interview with Albawaba.com in Damascus, the official, who asked for anonymity, expected that Sfeir “would not work to calm down the tension with Syria." He was commenting on statements by Sfeir published by the French newspaper Liberation on Thursday. 

“Lebanon is not independent, not sovereign and not free,” the Patriarch told the paper, adding that nothing is done in the country without Syria’s consent. 

“It is not enough for Syria to appoint the pillars of the regimes, but it also plants its ‘men’ in all positions and in the judiciary,” he charged. 

In what appeared as a declaration of war, as far as the official is concerned, Sfeir said that “Lebanon cannot take it any longer.” 

Commenting in an interview given on the same day, the Christian leader who spearheads the anti-Syrian campaign said that the statement was given to the paper two months earlier. The remark was interpreted as an attempt to cool things down with Syria. 

A former Lebanese foreign minister agreed with this interpretation.  

In an interview with BBC radio on Saturday, Fares Bweiz said that the Sfeir-Syrian relationship has changed, and that Damascus has shown flexibility towards the Lebanese issue lately. 

Bweiz’s statement came after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday. Observers said that Boweiz acted as Sfeir’s envoy to Damascus. 

However, pro-Syrian figures in Lebanon have not ceased their attacks on the Maronite Patriarch after his first statement in Bokroki in which he called for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The position was boldly taken by key Lebanese politicians, prominent of whom was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt who waged an anti-Syrian campaign during his parliamentary election campaign late August, in which he achieved a landslide victory.  

Syria keeps about 35,000 troops in Lebanon, who have recently redeployed to the Beqaa Valley, leaving the capital Beirut and other major cities. 

Those who favor the Syrian presence in Lebanon defend their stand by saying that the Syrian army is vital in case of any Israeli hostility. 

Citing Maariv Israeli newspaper, the Lebanese official told Albawaba.com that intelligence reports speak of a limited war between Israel on one side, and Syria and Lebanon on the other. 

“A report presented to [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak said literally that it is not likely that a war between Israel and any Arab country would break out in the near future, but a confrontation with Syria-Lebanon might take place soon as a result of Hizbollah’s operations against Israel in south Lebanon,” he said. 

“Lebanese intelligence centers have also received information from European capitals saying that war is more probable than any other option, and this information is in the hands of the Syrians now,” he added. 

The official also cited a report sent to the Lebanese government from Cairo anticipating Israeli wide-scale military operations in Lebanon in case Hizbollah carries out quality attacks on Israeli targets. 

“Patriarch Sfeir knows that well, and is aware of the situation on the front. Besides, certain parties in Lebanon have called on him and asked him to postpone the battle with Damascus because it comes at a bad time. They also assured him that the Syrian leadership was ready to correct the mistakes relating to the Lebanese-Syrian relationship.”  

The official affirmed that he had information regarding plots against the regime in Syria. He said there are meetings between Rifaat Assad, brother of the late president Hafez Assad and General Emad Oun, former Lebanese - both living in exile – in addition to Syrian dissidents with the aim of toppling the regime in Damascus. 

The official claimed that Rifaat, who was expelled from Syria in mid 1990s, has links with Israel and all these plots aim at confusing the new leadership in Syria, and the anti-Syrian crusade in Lebanon falls under this heading. 

The source referred to riots that occurred before the death of the late president when armed supporters of Rifaat Assad clashed with the Syrian forces who cracked down on illegal smuggling operations carried out through private ports. 

According to the official, the scenario is as follows: “Patriarch Sfeir and his allies in Lebanon, like Walid Jumblatt, start talk about redeployment of the Syrian army, to be followed by calls to replace the Syrian security officials with new ones with no experience, a matter which would give more room for more active intelligence work on the part of the enemy. 

“The next step would be a demand for the exchange of diplomatic representation between Beirut and Damascus, then they would call for disarming Hizbollah, even if that needs the interference of international forces. 

“The final act would be the establishment of full-scale Lebanese-Israeli relations, equivalent to Beirut’s relations with Damascus, in a way that makes Lebanon a field for anti-Syrian activities,” according to the official, who added that if this were the case, another civil war is inevitable. 

Nonetheless, there are people in Lebanon who look at the filled half of the glass. Patriarch Sfeir is said to prefer dialogue with Syria. The Maronite leader’s advice against chanting anti-Syrian slogans when students crowded near his headquarters to demand Syrian pullout was interpreted as a sign of the clergyman’s desire for improving ties with Syria after mending the flaws in his country’s relation with the “big sister.” 

According to observers, one of the thorniest issues to be tackled is the Syrian labor force in Lebanon. Estimated at quarter a million workers, the Lebanese protest that such a large number of Syrian laborers comes at the expense of the Lebanese work force, who suffer high rates of unemployment and are obliged to immigrate to earn their living. 




© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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