Lebanon crisis

Top Christian cleric in Lebanon slams Hezbollah’s arms, demands international help

“If you want to fight Israel, why do you Lebanese territory?” the Maronite patriarch questioned

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Lebanon’s top Christian cleric criticized Hezbollah in an interview aired Monday, hitting out at the “Iranian military force in Lebanon” for deciding wars in Israel, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai said he wanted to discuss the issue of Hezbollah’s arms with its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, but noted that the problem was “way bigger than Lebanon.”

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Rai, who has repeatedly slammed the Iran-backed Hezbollah in recent months, said it was on Lebanese leaders to form a national defense strategy that would bring Hezbollah’s arms under the state’s control.

“This is first an internal step, but the cause of Hezbollah’s arms is much bigger than Lebanon,” Rai told CNBC in an interview from his office.

Calling for an international conference to discuss Hezbollah’s weapons, Rai said: “Hezbollah shouldn’t remain free to use arms whenever it wants and wherever it wants. It shouldn’t be capable of deciding wars in Israel, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, with a disregard to the government, the president and the parliament.”

Hezbollah, formed in 1982 by Iran to fight back Israeli troops in Lebanon, has come under increased criticism for its disregard for Lebanese domestic affairs and its allegiance to Tehran. The group has been designated a terror organization by the United States, Gulf nations and several European and South American countries.

And its continued possession of arms and increasing influence over Lebanon’s state institutions have been a critical factor in the slashing of international aid to Beirut.

Noting that Hezbollah becomes agitated when referred to as a militia, Rai called the group an “Iranian military force in Lebanon to combat Israel.”

“If you want to fight Israel, why do you use Lebanese territory?” he questioned. “Hezbollah, like the army or any other army in the world, is not entitled to make a decision or to decide to go into war or peace. The state is the one that decides.”

Turning to the recent talks between Washington and Tehran over a new nuclear deal, Rai said he asked the US “not to make Lebanon a negotiating card between the US and Iran.”

“And as I said before, the issue of arms should be addressed with Iran because Iran is the source.”

Asked what the solution was to Hezbollah’s arms, Rai said an international conference and the UN Security Council.

“If we really want peace and stability in the Middle East, Lebanon is the point of entry for this. That’s why the issue of Lebanon should be addressed,” the patriarch said.

Read more: Senior US diplomat heading to Beirut for Lebanon-Israel border talks