News from Beirut May 6 1997 ...Search

Lebanon-Pope Visit

-Five days before his pontiff's visit to Lebanon , a nation wide rare consensus welcome is observed though political motives and expectations on the visit varied. Lebanese opposition leaders in France, especially Gen. Michel Aoun, despite their reservations on the visit, have called for a warm participation in welcoming his pontiff, something regarded here as a significant development. In Beirut, a spate of welcoming reactions to the visit was issued by various political and religious tendencies.

News agencies quoted Gen. Michel Aoun saying in Paris "despite the reservations I have outlined, I urge the Lebanese people to warmly welcome the Pope". He added that "it is certain those who will receive the Pope rising up banners tipped by words such as freedom, independence, justice, and peace, will do that risking their lives, because the visit will be under strict surveillance under the pretext of security, the occupant forces will be exploiting that event by their own way". He pointed out that "Lebanon is occupied by two armies, an Israeli occupation army and a Syrian settling army". Ex president Amin Gemayel said he hopes "the visit will break the conspiracy of silence which had victimized my country". Gemayel added "they want people to believe that peace has returned to Lebanon, but in fact it is the peace of boots and cemeteries". He stressed the historic aspect of the visit which has been awaited for long time by the Lebanese, and which in the present crisis time represents a great hope, because of the Pope's daring stands in support of freedom". Gemayel hoped that the "Lebanese in exile, or those ousted from the national political life, be able, Christians and Muslims, to return back to Lebanon to share in a national unity government and to establish a brotherly dialogue but on equal foot with Syria, with which we demand establishing distinguished relations".

-Preparations for the visit continue on all media, organization, and security levels. Reports said some 20,000 soldier and officer of the Lebanese army units were placed on full alert to take over responsibility of the visit's security, additional to mobilizing the army medical brigade and number of helicopters. News also said that three Hotel d'Hieu intensive care beds were reserved from Saturday morning until after Sunday afternoon when his pontiff leaves the country.

- Papal nuncio Pablo Puente has put emphasis on choosing the martyrs square as the location of Sunday mass by the Pope. He said after a meeting with speaker Berri that the square symbolizes many things, "additional to the independence, it had represented at certain time the symbol of national unity, also had been named the square of freedom and the Lebanese fortress".  Puente ridiculed reports on disagreements between him and some Maronite spiritual leaders.

- News analysts said the Pope visit would lead to postpone some of the important files, including a court sentence on the attempted assassination of Michel Murr, for which Samir Geagea would be facing an additional sentence.

Geagea case has been given highlight in the media as the Pope's visit come nearer. According to the analysts, Vatican officials denied his pontiff would raise the case during his visit but pointed out instead that the file is now in the hands of president Elias Hrawi, refraining to assert a coordination between the Vatican and Hrawi on the case of Geagea. President Hrawi circles, after news leak on efforts he exerted to pardon Geagea, also leaks that he notified president Assad at their last summit on the pardon, said this logic is incorrect, and in case of a pardon, the present circumstances is not the convenient one for that, and perhaps a peace in the region would serve such intention.

-Preparations underway in Lebanon continue day and night and on hour. Some 345 statesman, official, spiritual figure, will be receiving the Pope at the airport, out of which some 70 only will be allowed to shake hands with him.

-Law expert Edmond Naim, one of the defendants of Samir Geagea, asked by a radio station on a statement issued by Geagea defendants appealing the Pope to seek a pardon for him, said he has not been informed of the appeal. Naim said the defendants agreed to place over the case on his pontiff in few letters memo, asking his intervention to seek a fair dealing with the case and in accordance to a basic principle adopted by Lebanon which is equality among the citizens. Asked if the sentence on Geagea in the case of Michel Murr would be postponed, Naim said "I do not think our wish will be positively responded by the court".

-Tripoli MP Misbah el Ahdab said buses of his company Ahdab-Transport is in disposal of the people in north Lebanon who wish to participate in Beirut downtown mass and naturally free of any charge.

-Druze community inter row over excluding Sheikh Bahjat Ghaith from the invitations to receive his pontiff is continuing. Ghaith said the move is a blow at the community dignity.

-Patriarch Sfair told a visiting delegation of Salsburg Caritas he refuses the slogan saying Lebanon is a country of tribes who fight each other. He said Lebanon is not rich in resources but rich in its culture, civilization and the Muslim-Christian dialogue. He said "Lebanon's 18 sect are living in solidarity and comprehension, in freedom and common coexistence, and that is  what distinguishes us from others in the region".

- Prime minister Rafic Hariri, who has checked the works in downtown Beirut where the mass will be held, said "the visit is an act of faith and trust in Lebanon as a country of common coexistence among religious communities". Hariri, who met the Pope four times in the past in the Vatican, said "It is a historic visit which I personally feel proud of it ". He said Lebanon is the first country in the M.E to be visited by his pontiff despite the too many calls he had received. Asked about the visit's reflection on the Pope's call for reviving common coexistence and the Maronites join in the rule of the country, Hariri said " those who placed themselves out have done it for political reasons and religion has nothing to do with it, and the opposition is not only exclusively Christian but there is a Muslim opposition too". Asked about critics on Samir Geagea's situation, Hariri said "The judicial authority is acting in accordance to a pardon law on the war crimes(1991) before we assumed the office, so far, no side has presented any suggestion to amend that law".

Constitutional Council

- Members of the Constitutional Council did not show up Monday and will not hold any meeting on Thursday after the May 6th martyrs day and May 7th the beginning of Hijri new year. Observers see that rulings on the appeals will not be announced until after the Pope's visit that is on Monday May 12th, because of a wary to cause an inconvenient noisy row.

Just-In Reports

- Two blasts exploded 11.30 a.m. today off an underconstruction building at Nabih Berri boulevard in Nabatieh killing two labors and seriously wounding two other civilian passersby. An army communiqué said three blasts, each of 15 Kg explosives, went off today and a third one was defused. It said the blasts were Israeli made with Hebrew labels. The communiqué cautioned of any suspected items and called the public to report that to any near army post.

News reports said the blasts explosion was timed before the visit of the Pope, and aimed to destabilize security days before the Muslim Ashoura commemoration days commence. The strong explosion coincided with Israeli warplanes flights over Nabatieh causing panic as people thought it is Israeli artillery shelling on the town.

- Two Israeli warplanes raided 4.00 p.m. today a pine forest at Ain Tineh in west Bekaa opposite to an SLA outpost at Toumat Niha. The raiding planes fired 4 air to surface missiles. No casualties were reported.

- The 5 nation cease-fire monitoring committee is due to meet to discuss an Israeli complaint against two Islamic resistance operations against SLA posts. Two SLA men and three other civilians were wounded as a result of the operations according to Israeli claim. Security reports said three SLA men and three civilians were reported wounded Monday in two blasts explosion at the crossroads Burj el Moulouk- Khiam deep in Merjeuoun area inside the occupied security zone.

- Hizbullah official in south Lebanon Nabil Qaouk said the Blasts explosion in Nabatieh is a jump over the framework of the battle ground in south Lebanon. He said the explosion revealed Israel's deficiency in facing the Islamic resistance which knows well how to retaliate back.

- Special security measures including freeze of arms licenses were enforced at Nabatieh region as of today at the start of Ashoura.

- Iran foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati arrived today to Lebanon via Syria in land and received at Masnaa border center by his Lebanese counterpart Fares Boueiz. Following a brief talks at the foreign ministry, Velayati was received at 7.15 p.m. by president Elias Hrawi at Baabda palace. Velayati handed Hrawi a message from his Iranian counterpart extending invitation to president Hrawi to attend the Islamic summit scheduled in Tehran in Dec.

Boueiz said views were close on reading the M.E current situation which is not promising optimism. Velayati said an Israeli imminent danger is looming especially on Syria and Lebanon. He met later this evening with speaker Nabih Berri.

- Hizbullah political bureau delegation visited today papal nuncio Pablo Puente at Harissa and handed him Hizbullah leadership statement on the Pope's visit. The statement welcomed the visit and pointed out issues of main concern at the present stage including Jerusalem issue, the resistance against Israel, the Israeli occupation and relevant stand on it, also the common coexistence and Muslims- Christians dialogue. Puente said the visit of the delegation is of significant important nature.

- NLP leader Douri Chamoun after a visit to Bkerke where he met Patriarch Sfair, said the Lebanese opposition will hand a memorandum to his pontiff. Chamoun refrained to disclose contents.

-Muslim Shiite spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine after receiving today the Maronite Bishop of Beirut Boulos Mattar, welcomed the Pope's visit and gave his blessing for a successful visit that would join together all the Lebanese.

- Prime minister Rafic Hariri today held separate talks with president Elias Hrawi and speaker Nabih Berri on the preparations for the visit and the general situation. He left to Damascus and reported to have held talks this evening with Syrian V.P Abdel Halim Khaddam.

- Newly arrived German ambassador said after his visit to speaker Nabih Berri today some of the 20,000 Lebanese living in Germany would be repatriated in Lebanon after being deported from his country.

News In Brief

-President Hrawi received credentials of seven new ambassadors including ambassadors of Denmark, Chad, Mali, north Korea, south Korea, Germany, and France.

- General union of Israel's labors the Hestedrout, in a message sent by fax via Europe to Lebanon's president Elias Hrawi, condemned the serious breach of the Lebanese GLC right to exercise its rights. Hrawi called on prime minister Hariri and informed him of the fax. The GLC former leader in Lebanon Elias abu Rizk commenting on the fax said "I did not imagine such a dirty game which aims at the national attitudes of the GLC". Abu Rizk demanded an immediate investigation to reveal the implications of this criminal and mean action against Lebanon and its labors.

- Lebanon council of ministers is due to meet Thursday at Baabda palace under president Elias Hrawi. 38 item are on the agenda including particularly a design on quarries and the issue of appointing emigrants attaches at Lebanese overseas missions.

- Greek Orthodox patriarch Aghnatious Hazim arrived to Lebanon yesterday and scheduled to meet with the community clerics, participate in receiving the Pope, also meets with patriarchs of the Christian non-Catholics.

- Foreign minister Fares Boueiz is to visit Rumania on 14th and 15th May.

- Caldian Synod under patriarch Bedawid now meeting at Saydet el Bir monastery in Lebanon to discuss a draft resolution on unity with the Assyrian sect.

- Copts Patriarch Anba Shenouda has been warmly received at the Yarmouk Palestinian camp near Damascus by 2,000 cheerful Palestinians. Shenouda visited Maaloula and Saidnaya. Islamic Jihad and Hamas representatives in Syria hailed Shenouda for his defend of Jerusalem and Palestine.

Sports Round Up

- Lebanon Volleyball federation is due to discuss today the final arrangements on Asian teams championship which will be held in Lebanon from 12 to 18 May at Ghazir closed stadium. Some 14 Asian champions will participate in the event.

- 205 Lebanese school students from 38 schools participated in the chess championship.

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