Syria main problem in Lebanon, cardinal insists

As the Lebanese army battled Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp leaving 60 dead, Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir of Beirut said that Syrian influence in Lebanon is still the main obstacle to peace.

"All the country's bishops are in agreement that the Syrian occupation, which is the cause of conflict in Lebanon, must end," the Maronite Catholic Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir told Vatican Radio.

Cardinal Sfeir, who has long been critical of Syrian influence in Lebanon, called for international leadership to help the country escape from foreign domination.

"New initiatives are necessary" to break Syria's control over Lebanon, he said.

Earlier, the Lebanese government had vowed to wipe out militants who had been locked in three days of fierce gun-battles with government troops around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Militant group Fatah al-Islam's spokesman Abu Salim Taha said on Wednesday the group would abide by a truce but vowed its militants would not surrender.

"We respect the truce, but we will not surrender. If we are attacked, we will fight until the last drop of blood," Abu Salim said.

"The civilians are free to exit the camp. We will not stop them," he added.

Fatah al-Islam declared a unilateral truce on Tuesday after three days of fighting.

Refugees caught up in the clashes were continuing to flee the battered camp on Wednesday after the guns fell silent.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune reports that the UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned the attacks by the Fatah Islam militant group in northern Lebanon "in the strongest possible terms," saying they constitute an unacceptable attack on the country's stability, security and sovereignty.

Council members reiterated "their unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon and underlined their readiness to continue to act in support of the legitimate and democratically elected government of Lebanon."

End Syrian control over Lebanon, Maronite patriarch pleads (Catholic World News, 23/5/07)
PLO ok with Lebanon army entering camp in north Lebanon (Ya Libnan, 23/5/07)
Security Council condemns attacks by Islamic militants in Lebanon in strongest terms (International Herald Tribune, 23/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir
Maronite Church, Lebanon

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24 May 2007