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Syria is signaling the death of our independence' warns Sfeir Thursday,
September 06, 2001 (Daily Star)
Patriarch releases 'bombshell'
The Maronite clergy accused Damascus and its allies in Beirut on Wednesday of signaling the death of Lebanon as an independent state, issuing a fiery rant that ended a short-lived political lull and revived the divisive issue of relations with Syria.
With the country still reeling from the recent political disputes that had left it on the verge of economic collapse, the Council of Maronite Bishops dropped a new bombshell from the summer residence of the Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Diman.
Sfeir presided over a meeting of the council, timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the “First Appeal” for Syria’s exit from Lebanon, which had polarized the nation into pro- and anti-Syrian camps. But the bishops maintained that last year’s appeal encouraged politicians to address an issue that had remained taboo for a quarter-century, “albeit cautiously.”
This indicated that the council was after another “political shock,” capitalizing on public sympathy following the recent crackdown on anti-Syrian Christian activists.
But the attempt could backfire and push the hard-line Christian religious and political hierarchy into another phase of isolation.
Toughest statement against Syria
The statement, the toughest against Syria since the end of the civil war more than a decade ago, cast doubt over the prospects of salvaging the dialogue that was established last week between President Emile Lahoud and the Qornet Shehwan Gathering of leading politicians blessed by the Maronite church.
But it also reflected deep frustration with the Lahoud administration’s perceived inability to accommodate political rivals and sponsor genuine reconciliation. Since the first appeal, the bishops had toned down their rhetoric, but was given nothing in return, even though Sfeir had received “numerous encouraging signals” from Damascus, a source close to the council said.
The council focused its ire mainly on Syria, but Wednesday’s three-page statement spared no one.
“What we recently witnessed is the most striking proof of the degeneration of the institutions: a Parliament which swung from one extreme to another at the wave of a magical wand in the span of 10 days; a Cabinet that appeared to be oblivious to what is happening around it, when it is supposed to be in charge of the country,” the statement said.
It was alluding to amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law, which MPs approved to please Lahoud, and last month’s security sweep, mounted without the prior consent of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or his Cabinet.
“Some Cabinet ministers are imposed on the prime minister, who in turn is forced to cooperate with them against his will. The decision is elsewhere, outside Lebanon,” it said.
The “non-Lebanese decision makers,” it claimed, were determining the winners and losers in the local political game, referring to Syria’s support for Lahoud.
The council compared Syrian intervention with other foreign tutelage in Lebanon’s history, claiming that even during Ottoman rule the country maintained a measure of autonomy which at present does not exist.
‘We knew a free, sovereign Lebanon’
“Lebanon is vanishing little by little, losing its identity, its peculiarities, its constitutional institutions and even its entity,” the statement said. “There will come a day … when there will be those who would say: ‘We knew a free, sovereign Lebanon.’
“And those who claim they are protecting by keeping it under tutelage will be the cause of its disappearance,” it said, referring to those defending Syria’s military presence, spearheaded by Lahoud.
Noticeably missing from the statement was any reference to the “special” relations with Syria, which the bishops had supported last year.
Instead, the new appeal called for “fraternal relations” that prevent interference in each other’s internal affairs.
It decried the “selective application” of the 1989 Taif Accord.
The bishops also seemed set to win an enemy on the other side of the religious divide. They complained that some factions were still armed, in violation of Taif - a clear swipe at Hizbullah and Amal, which have been allowed to maintain their weapons.
They asked why the south should remain a battle front when other Arab frontiers enjoyed peace, but offered sympathy for Palestinians experiencing “daily massacres.”
It maintained that its first appeal had encouraged reconciliation.
“However, regrettably, [the trip] was closely followed by accusations, arrests and trials.”
Gebran Tueni : 'Bishop's Statement is Dialogue Basis with Syria'
Gebran Tueni called on President Lahoud's regime and Syria on Thursday to take the new declaration of the Maronite church as the "working paper" for a dialogue to bring about a national reconciliation in Lebanon and readjust its relationship with Damascus.
The writer warned in a front-page An Nahar editorial against taking the statement of the Maronite bishops as a deliberate escalation to undermine the dialogue that had already begun between the president and Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir as well as the Qornet Shahwan coalition.
"The statement has outlined the guidelines for the local dialogue as well as the dialogue of the Lebanese state with Syria…There are problems that need a dialogue on the two prongs," wrote Tueni.
"We have to create a positive political dynamism that allows us to surmount the suffocating economic crisis, consolidate the democratic system on a basis of freedom, sovereignty and independence and open a new page with Syria," Tueni argued.
He recalled that certain people had said last month's events of violations, detentions, intimidation and treason charges were a clear message to every opposition leader not to oppose any longer.
"Opponents have been told not to bring up hot issues with the Syrian presence or the dispatch of the army south or the question of independence, sovereignty and freedom of decision," Tueni wrote.
"The new appeal of the bishops is the direct answer to the message. The demands of Lebanon are unshakable and can be addressed only through free dialogue. There is no back down at whatever cost," Tueni concluded.
Gebran Tueni Cracks the Whip on Gen. Aoun
Gebran Tueni cracked the whip on Gen. Aoun Thursday, accusing him of betraying his own cause by seeking contacts with Syria and conducting secret negotiations with the Taif authorities in 1990 to escape banishment.
Tueni's outburst followed a barrage the general fired the previous day from his exile in Paris against Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and the Qornet Shahwan coalition of center-right Christian politicians under the patriarch's wing.
"It was a stab with which you have offered a free of charge gift to the Lebanese and Syrian regimes on a silver platter by doing what they have been trying in vain to doundermine the unity of ranks from within," Tueni wrote.
Tueni reminded the general that he had sought, in vain, an appointment with Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon Maj. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan shortly before he fled the Baabda palace in 1990 to seek asylum at the French embassy.
"You have signed agreements about the Taif accord with the French ambassador at the time and then conducted secret negotiations with the Taif authorities to return to Lebanon," Tueni charged.
"The general's problem is that he has never been able to take off the general's uniform although he has spent 10 years in one of the world's most sophisticated capital's of democracy, civilization and freedoms,"' Tueni lashed.
"The general refuses to join any coalition or any movement unless he is the commanding general, the patriarch and the sole leader," Tueni added.
"The patriarch has long been taking heroic stands, burdened by the absence of the politicians from the Lebanese arena, including our friend the general who hasn't mustered enough guts to return home," Tueni wrote in an An Nahar editorial.
"The general may be afraid of the unknown, afraid of investigation, or afraid of prison at a time the swords of arrest and interrogation are unsheathed against those who opted to do battle on the battlefield," Tueni went on.
"At the time the patriarch is confronting the biggest assault on freedoms, democracy and the civil society of Lebanon, the general comes out to lecture us from Paris, because it is always easy to fight by remote control from far away."
Tueni stressed that the Qornet Shahwan coalition was remedying the wounds of the people and rally Christian ranks that had long been torn from the inside by arrogant leaders like the general who claims to 'monopolize patriotism."
The Qornet Shahwan coalition, Tueni contended, is trying to form a broad-based Christian authority to seek a national dialogue that has begun by the historic reconciliation concluded by the patriarch and Walid Jumblat,
"This is to be followed by efforts for a dialogue with the state and to persuade it to begin a dialogue with Syria for a time-table withdrawal of the Syrian forces," noted Tueni.
He ridiculed the general for claiming that the patriarch and Qornet Shahwan did not endorse his recent call for a nation-wide strike to protest the recent arrests.
"It is the people who shunned your work-stoppage call. We have simply taken our cue from the people," Tueni wrote, addressing Aoun. "We believe in dialogue and in democratic opposition, not in coup d'tats and mutiny."
"You have been making one mistake after another because the arms of your clock have stopped at 1989," Tueni wrote.