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0 Rai, Future bloc call for weapons-free country.

BEIRUT: Politicians and religious leaders took to the Christmas stage to tout their messages with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai reiterating his call for a weapons-free Lebanon.At a Sunday Mass in Bkirki, Rai urged the government to work toward a Lebanon where all weapons are under the control of the Lebanese government.

The newly elected Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai gestures shortly after his election at the Maronite church's seat in Bkirki, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)
The newly elected Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai gestures shortly after his election at the Maronite church's seat in Bkirki, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)
“It is the duty of the state alone, entrusted with the security of its citizens and peace in the country, to collect weapons and place them under the sole control of legitimate Lebanese forces so that Beirut and all of Lebanon can become weapons-free,” Rai said.
“[The state] has to bring the tasks of defense and security under the sole authority of political power and bolster confidence in its armed forces,” Rai continued.
The patriarch also called on the government to grant amnesty for Lebanese who fled to Israel in 2000 following the Israeli army’s withdrawal from the south – Parliament passed an urgent draft law in November allowing those who fled to return.
Rai’s comments about weapons come days after Beirut MPs from the March 14 coalition began campaigning for an arms-free capital after a spate of security incidents in Beirut, including a gunfight in Zeidanieh and clashes, denied by the Lebanese Army, reported in Burj Abi Haidar.
Future Movement MPs began calling last year for a “de-militarized” Beirut following armed clashes between Hezbollah and the Association of the Islamic Charitable Projects that left three people dead in Burj Abi Haidar.
The National News Agency reported that in a Christmas meeting with Rai, President Michel Sleiman spoke about the need to rid the country of illegitimate arms, and Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said in a Sunday radio interview that Rai’s statements on weapons are in keeping with Sleiman’s sentiments.
“We’ve entered an important path, perhaps similar to that of bishops’ call in 2000 for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon,” Fatfat said. “Rai’s statements express a Lebanese consensus that has been emerging gradually about the importance that the Lebanese state is the only party that controls the country’s security,” he added.
Fatfat said that Rai’s comments present a challenge to Hezbollah, asking whether “it intends to review the issue of withdrawing arms and meet the Lebanese halfway.”
Speaking about the Cabinet’s future, Fatfat said it is “not in the hands of its prime minister, but is connected to the decision that established it [the Cabinet], [that is] Syria and Hezbollah ... As long as these two have an interest in the Cabinet remaining, it will continue, regardless of the difficulties it faces domestically,” he continued. Fatfat said the Cabinet “does not have any Lebanese future” and has not provided “anything serious to the Lebanese,” noting that the wage increase proposal could still be rejected by the Shura Council.
In a Sunday statement, Hezbollah wished Christians well and said that it hoped “that our country and region are filled with unity, cooperation and [will] to overcome the series of crises facing the world and especially the region.” The statement said all religions should be united against “unjust Israeli occupation backed by arrogant powers, especially the United States of America.”
At a Christmas Mass in Downtown Beirut, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi generally avoided politics but said “let each of us work according to his conscience and duty, instead of launching theories and slogans without acting upon them and expecting others to implement them.”
Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani Monday called both Rai and the Maronite Church’s former patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, to extend his Christmas greetings, the NNA reported.

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