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BEIRUT: Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has expressed the church’s growing dismay at the arrest of a senior Lebanese Maronite cleric.

The move “deliberately constitutes an attack on the Maronite patriarchy and its powers”, Al-Rahi told a crowd of protesters gathered in the courtyard of the patriarch’s home church in Dimane on Sunday.

Archbishop Musa Al-Hajj, Archbishop of the Maronite Archdiocese of Haifa and Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem, the Palestinian Territories and the Territories of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, was arrested at the Al-Naqoura crossing point between Lebanon and Israel after a visit to his parish in the holy territories.

Bishop Al-Hajj faced lengthy interrogation by the General Security Service in accordance with a court order.

The medicine, aid and sum of money he received from Lebanese who fled to Israel 22 years ago to deliver them to their families in Lebanon have been seized.

He was also subject to a travel ban and remanded to the military court.

Al-Rahi claimed that “what Bishop Musa Al-Hajj faced violated the dignity of the church”.

Al-Rahi said that it is not permissible to sue a bishop without referring to his authority, which is the Patriarchate.

“We reject these actions with political implications and demand that the property seized from the Bishop, including his passport, mobile phone, aid, money and medicine, be returned to him, as Lebanese in the Holy Lands occupied have entrusted him with the delivery of this aid to their families in Lebanon of all sects,” he said.

“This is what the Maronite bishops have done for years in the past and what should continue to be done in the future.”

Addressing those who are “harming Lebanon,” Al-Rahi also said, “Stop saying that the help came from agents and look for those agents elsewhere. You know where they are and who they are.

Al-Rahi said Bishop Al-Hajj “maintains the Christian, Palestinian and Arab presence inside Israel and deserves to be praised and supported instead of attacking its dignity and honorable message.”

He also said that the Maronite presence in Palestine dates back to the earliest times of the emergence of the people of Saint Maroun.

Maronites played an important role there which is praised by those of other sects, Al-Rahi said.

“The ruling ruling party is trying in vain to turn the political attack on Archbishop Al-Hajj and undermining the dignity of the Church and its representatives into a mere groundless court case in order to hide their guilt and add unconvincing explanations and interpretations,” he said. said,

“If there is a law that prohibits anyone from bringing humanitarian aid into the country, let them show it to us.”

“It’s time we changed the reality filled with hate and hostility.”

Al-Rai said Lebanon “cannot be built, progress and unify through this approach which does not reflect the values ​​of its people and its history”.

“Those who implement these policies and build these records should learn from their predecessors and experiences that prove that bad people cannot be part of Lebanon’s honorable history.”

In his sermon, the Maronite patriarch called for “the formation of a new government as soon as possible and the election of a new president within the constitutional deadlines”.

A round of applause rang out in the church hall when the patriarch spoke of the need to elect a new president, and when he said, “Get those agents somewhere else. You know where they are and who they are.

Al-Rahi said the laws stated that no bishop or priest should be prosecuted without the Patriarch’s permission. “What happened constitutes an attack and an insult to the Maronite Patriarchate and to me personally.”

Former justice minister Ibrahim Najjar argued that “Lebanon has already signed code 1060 issued by the Eastern Churches, stipulating that only the Roman pontiff has the right to prosecute bishops in criminal cases. Therefore, no civil or military authority has the right to prosecute a bishop in criminal cases.

What further infuriated the Christian community and provoked increased protest from the Maronite patriarch was Hezbollah’s statement made on Saturday by the leader of its parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad.

He said: “Collusion with the enemy is a national betrayal and a crime. An agent does not represent his sect. But when the agent is punished, he becomes a representative of the entire sect that gathers to defend him. What is this ambivalence?

Commenting on Al-Rahi’s remarks, MP Nadim Gemayel said: “It seems that collusion with the enemy has become a point of view. Doesn’t this also apply to those who publicly express their attachment to Iran and drag Lebanon into conflicts that only serve the Iranian project?

“Doesn’t this apply to those who smuggled flour and diesel into Syria?

Patriarch Al-Rahi maintains Lebanon’s neutrality, a concept rejected by Hezbollah and its allies.

The Al-Hajj detention incident came to a head after Al-Rahi stressed Lebanon’s need for a neutral president.

A Maronite Patriarchate source said the message was received after Bishop Al-Hajj was detained and interrogated.

However, in a statement released by its bishops, the Patriarchate said it has two demands – the return of the confiscated items to Bishop Al-Hajj and the dismissal of the acting government commissioner of the military tribunal, Fadi Akiki, on whose orders Bishop Al-Hajj was interrogated.

Akiki is close to the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah.

The number of Lebanese who fled to Israel in 2000 during its occupation of southern Lebanon is estimated at 6,000 people.

Dozens of them returned to Lebanon in the years that followed after being tried, while hundreds of them moved to the United States and European countries where they now live.

About 3,000 Lebanese citizens remained in Israel.

Christian protest was not limited to the Maronite Church.

“Every criminal, thief and offender must be held accountable and punished. However, what happened with Archbishop Al-Hajj is unacceptable and shows that there is a new security and judicial approach with serious repercussions throughout the country,” Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Elias Aoude of Beirut said in a statement. his Sunday sermon.

“This is a dangerous and unacceptable thing and we hope it won’t happen again.”

Aoude said that if Bishop Al-Hajj’s detention was a “message to the church to silence it, then we say the church cannot be intimidated. She fears only her God and listens to the voice of conscience and duty.