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ICC Note: Lebanon joins a long line of other Middle Eastern countries where Christians have been voting with their feet for years.

Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir To Der Spiegel: “We Don’t Want a Proxy War in Lebanon “

For the full article, go to Der Spiegel

Posted Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Beirut (Der Spiegel) As more and more Christians are leaving Lebanon, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, in an interview with the SPIEGEL ONLINE, talked about the on-going Christian exodus, the future of Hezbollah and the influence of Iran and Syria on his country, stating that “Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. We can not accept”.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Highness, what are you most worried about at the moment?

Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran . That’s not something we can continue to accept after the war.

Sfeir: The progressive devastation of our country. And the growing outward migration of Christians, who are not returning to Lebanon . We held out in the Arab world for 2,000 years, but now things are going downhill at a rapid pace. The current crisis is dramatically amplifying this tendency.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Christians in Lebanon don’t speak unanimously. For example, General Michel Aoun — possibly Lebanon ‘s next president — has forged an alliance with Hezbollah.

Sfeir: Yes. Unfortunately there are also some Christians who make arrangements with Hezbollah — if only for tactical reasons. It may be unlikely, but if Hezbollah should one day take power in Lebanon , the Christians will leave the country in droves.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does Hezbollah still have a right to exist after this war?

Sfeir: I support Prime Minister Siniora’s peace plan, which calls for the disarmament of all Shi’ite militias. As soon as a cease-fire with Israel takes effect, as soon as the two sides exchange prisoners and the Sheba’a Farms are returned to Lebanon , Hezbollah will no longer have the right to maintain an army. Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran . That’s not something we can continue to accept after the war.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It’s common knowledge that Iran takes a different view.

Sfeir: What does Lebanon have to do with Iran ‘s problems? Our country mustn’t serve as the one that makes it territory available as a proxy rallying ground and battleground for other states. Neither the conflict over Iran ‘s nuclear program nor any other Iranian issues concern us Lebanese. Iran is a foreign country to us. All Lebanese should take this view.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Please describe your relationship to Syria for us.

Sfeir: What is true for Iran is also true for Syria . We refuse to tolerate proxy wars on Lebanese territory. The Syrian Golan Heights are as lifeless as a cemetery. So why should a struggle for the restitution of the Golan Heights be fought out in Lebanon of all places? We want orderly relations with Syria . That means Damascus must accept the demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and release our prisoners. But today the greatest danger isn’t coming from Syria , but from Iran . Iran is shipping weapons of all kinds into Lebanon, including rockets, and most of all a lot of money. How can an independent state be expected to tolerate that?

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth and Volkhard Windfuhr and posted by Spiegel Online on 11 August 2006.

Highlights are by IPS.