BEIRUT, Lebanon (Catholic Online) – The resolution of renewed violence and threats of escalation in Lebanon lies in dialogue that includes all Lebanese of all faiths, said the nation’s Catholic relief agency.
LEBANESE SOLDIERS, CIVILIANS STONE-LITTERED ROAD – Lebanese soldiers and civilians stand on a road littered with stones thrown by protesters during a strike called by the Hezbollah movement in Khaldeh, south of Beirut, Jan. 23. Thousands of Lebanese protesters blocked main roads in Beirut and around the country during a nationwide strike aimed at toppling the U.S.-supported government. (CNS/Reuters)
In statements made Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 in the midst of three days of conflict that began with Hezbollah strike protesting against the government’s policies, Caritas Lebanon pointed to the national population’s uncertainity about its safety and economic security.
“Threats of escalation generate heavy uncertainty on the activities of all the Lebanese, and have a dramatic impact in particular on those whose low incomes rely on small business activities, local tourism or catering,” the relief agency said on Jan. 25.
The opposition launched nationwide protests on Jan. 23 which shut down much of Lebanon and sparked violence in which a reported three people were killed and 176 wounded. An additional four people were reportedly shot dead in clashes between pro- and anti-government activists on Jan. 25 and about 200 were hurt in the violence that flared after a scuffle between students at Beirut Arab University.
The Lebanese army lifted a curfew in Beirut on Friday, the first night curfew in the nation’s capital since the 1975-90 civil war. Schools and universities remained closed a day after Sunni-Shiite clashes aroused fears of wider sectarian strife of the kind that once plunged the country into civil war.
The melee the third straight day of violence underscored how Lebanon's political power struggle between the U.S.- and Sunni-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the Hezbollah-led Shiite opposition has moved into the streets and left many fearing it could push the country back into civil war.
The opposition has staged two months of demonstrations and sit-ins in a bid to topple Saniora's government. The prime minister has refused the opposition's demand for veto-wielding share of the Cabinet.
“The political leaders who called for the strike had promised that the mobilization would be peaceful, but it rapidly evolved towards hard confrontations between militants in several regions, which causes extreme fear from an imminent generalized explosion in the whole country,” Caritas Lebanon said Jan. 25.
“In this alarming context, Caritas Lebanon considers that the resolution to the crisis lies in dialogue, and calls for a resumption of the normal operation of the institutions,” the statement said, noting that efforts must be directed to ensuring greater participation of all the Lebanese in the nation’s economic life.
It stressed need for “transparent management” of Lebanon’s estimated $41 billion debt, a “burden” which “should not weigh on the poorest.”
As violence on display in Lebanon, its prime minister was in Paris Jan. 25 at an international conference of donor nations that promised more than $7 billion in aid to rebuild Lebanon after this summer's devastating Hezbollah-Israel war.
While acknowledging the benefit of assistance and government plans “aiming at the improvement of social safety nets and health care and educational systems,” Caritas Lebanon soberly said “similar meetings have shown in the past that these measures and action plans are not sufficient to restore hope amongst the Lebanese who mainly distrust their political leaders.”
In this environment, the Catholic relief agency pointed to its post-emergency recovery program launched after last summer’s war that offers, among other services, daily meals, remedial classes to children, fuel oil to families and food parcels throughout the country. “Caritas Lebanon continues expanding its support programs for the most deprived by calling upon the solidarity of the Lebanese from all denominations.”
In a Jan. 24 message, Father Louis Samaha, Caritas Lebanon president, said the “massive protest movement … has us very worried.”
While unsure of what the ultimate consequences of the “serious” situation, Father Samaha expressed the hope of the Lebanese people “for a quick and definitive return to calm.”
“All that we wish for is a return to normal life,” he said, “an improvement in the socio-economic situation that continues to get worse and to affect a population with limited income, the setting up of a favorable economic system that will allow for an expansion of life and the development of a recovery plan, and most importantly, the creation of a firm and solid peace that will encourage investors to return to the country, so the tourism business can recover its normal pace, and to essentially allow the people to live once again.”
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.