Lebanese Maronites call for fresh presidential elections

Maronite bishops yesterday called on the Lebanese parliament to tackle the crisis splitting the nation by placing weapons under the control of security forces and by holding early presidential elections.

AsiaNews reports that the council of Maronite Bishops, in a declaration of the church's principles, also urged leaders of the community and other Lebanese spiritual groups to agree on a "code of honour" to settle differences through dialogue, reject violence and armed confrontations and refrain from agitation.

In its monthly meeting at suburban Bkirki under Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, the Council called on Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene the house to deliberate the issues that have paralysed constitutional institutions.

The "confusing situation through which the Lebanese are going is regrettable," the Council said in a statement. "Constitutional institutions have been paralysed."

"Nothing is left except parliament, but it doesn't convene."

"That is why," the statement added, "we plead with its speaker Nabih Berri to convene it so it may find a way out of the crisis."

Thousands of Hezbollah-led, anti-government protesters have held demonstrations in downtown Beirut since Friday. They are demanding one third of the cabinet seats in a new government, and effective veto power.

The Maronite declaration of principles also warned against linking Lebanon to regional and international disputes and called for the formation of an "entente government" to contain the explosive situation.

Without mentioning the Shiite Hezbollah faction by name, the statement said weapons in Lebanon should be "strictly controlled by the legitimate security forces."

The opposition, made up of Shia and Christian factions, has held demonstrations since Friday outside the offices of Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister,in central Beirut where he and several ministers have been holed up.

Gaza getting worse, say residents

Meanwhile, Ecumenical News International reports that church and human rights activists are saying that renewed violence in the Gaza Strip has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in a territory described by Palestinians as the "world's largest prison".

"We can't lose hope; otherwise it will be a disaster for the Palestinians," said Constantine S. Dabbagh, the executive director of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) committee for refugee work.

A truce along the Israeli-Gaza border has been called by Israel and has been holding in a precarious way. Still, on 1 December, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian in the West Bank, and militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel, raising the number launched since the cease-fire began to more than a dozen, news agencies reported.

Asked about the MECC's work and current conditions, Dabbagh said he remained pessimistic, and that US and Western support for Israel is underwriting "perpetual atrocities and massacres in this part of the intentionally forgotten planet".

Dabbagh said Israel's security will depend less on Israeli force than on an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; a more even-handed approach toward the region by the US; and by improving the humanitarian situation in Palestinian areas.

Maronite Church Calls for Early Presidential Elections (Naharnet, 6/12/06)
It's getting worse in 'world's largest prison' say Gaza residents (Ecumenical News International, 6/12/06)

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Lebanon on brink over assassination (CathNews, 22/11/06)
Lebanon's Maronite bishops reject call for new govt (CathNews, 6/10/06)
New Gaza settlement tenders concern Caritas Jerusalem (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Lebanon's "hell on earth": Order of Malta (CathNews, 29/8/06)
Stay in Lebanon: Maronite Archbishop begs his flock (CathNews, 22/8/06)
Bishops and church groups welcome Middle East ceasefire (CathNews, 14/8/06)
Neither retaliation or provocation can justify slaughter: Australian Maronite nun (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Aid agencies call on PM to push for Middle East ceasefire (CathNews, 7/8/06)
Unity and hope amid chaos in Lebanon (CathNews, 2/8/06)
Canberra Christian leaders slam Govt over "cowardly" silence on Middle East (CathNews, 1/8/06)
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Asian and African migrants "abandoned" in Lebanon, Vatican says (CathNews 27/7/06)
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Lebanese Maronite bishops plea for UN help (CathNews 25/7/06)
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Biblical lamentations as Gaza descends into disaster (CathNews, 12/7/06)

7 Dec 2006