BEIRUT (CNS) — Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic bishops underscored their “full confidence” in the country’s military and security forces as the Lebanese army battled Islamist militants’ incursion into Lebanon near the border with Syria.
Clashes erupted Aug. 2 in Arsal, about 55 miles northeast of Beirut, following the arrest of a man said to be linked to al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front.
In a statement following their monthly meeting Aug. 6, the Maronite Council of Bishops said, “We condemn the unrest and express our complete support to the army and security forces as should all political powers.”
At least 15 Lebanese soldiers had been killed, 80 wounded and 22 missing as of Aug. 6.
The bishops urged “friendly states” to extend the military and logistical support needed to enable the army to confront terrorism.
The population of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town of about 40,000, has nearly tripled because of the presence of Syrian refugees and rebels because of the ongoing war in Syria.
The bishops also called for a quick election of a Lebanese president to “restore Lebanon’s democratic role in the east.” Lebanon has been without a president since May 25 when Michel Suleiman’s six-year term ended amid a failure by parliament to elect a successor. Under the country’s power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Catholic.
The bishops also condemned attacks by the Islamic State against churches and Christians in Mosul, Iraq, where thousands of Christian families have fled their homes.
“We call upon the international community to take the necessary measures to stop the crimes against humanity that are being committed in Mosul,” the bishops said.
They also expressed concern about threats to the Christians of Syria, particularly in the area of Hassake.
They warned that the persecution of minorities in the region could lead to “emptying the area of Christian presence, which dates back to 2,000 years.”
Regarding the Israeli campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the bishops denounced what they referred to as “the Israeli killing machine, which operates in Gaza the cultivation of death and destruction and panic, amid Arab and international silence.”
The bishops said they “consider that there is no salvation from this tragedy without dedicating the right of Palestinian people to establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and make this city an open city for international protection, and keeping Israel from adopting the pretext of terrorism to further settlement expansion.”