Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir left Paris for south America Wednesday, complaining that Syria controls “everything and everyone” in Lebanon but insisting that Israel was the only enemy of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
The Patriarch called for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s release from jail, re-asserting that he was put in prison because he refused to take a cabinet minister post in the post-war government and side with Syria. “He simply had two options, either to become a government minister or go to jail. He chose prison,” Sfeir said.
The head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church bared his views in a news conference he held in Paris after lengthy talks with French President Jacques Chirac. The Patriarch arrived in the French capital Tuesday from a month-long stay in the Vatican.
Chirac had rolled out the red carpet for Cardinal Sfeir, awarding him a reception reserved for heads of state at the Elysée. The French president called upon Sfeir to intensify his efforts for a Muslim-Christian dialogue for a national reconciliation in Lebanon.
“Syria’s hegemony covers everything in Lebanon. Even those in power are not an exception,” said Cardinal Sfeir. His remarks broke months of de-escalation in his campaign for a timetabled withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.
Sfeir called anew for the full implementation of the Taif Accords that ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war on a basis of re-apportioning power equally between Christians and Muslims.
He also said the Syrian army, which entered Lebanon in 1976 ostensibly to halt the civil war, should also redeploy out of Beirut and other major cities to reassemble in he Bekaa Valley in conformity with the Taif pact.
“All what I am asking for is to allow Lebanon to run its own affairs by itself, exactly like Syria,” the Patriarch said. A distinguished relations and high levels of cooperation on equal footing would then be feasible, he added.
Sfeir said he maintained a “good relationship” with Hizbullah, but asserted that Hizbullah should lay down arms in line with the Taif agreement since Israel has terminated its 22-year-occupation of south Lebanon.
The dispute over the Shebaa farms should be settled by diplomacy rather than force of arms, the Patriarch said.