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Maronite archbishop calls refugee problem in Lebanon huge, dire

By Judith Sudilovsky

Retrieved from Catholic News Service on July 27, 2006

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The refugee problem in Lebanon is huge and the situation in the south of the country is "atrocious," said Maronite Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah of Haifa and the Holy Land.

"In some of the areas in the south the humanitarian situation is dire. People have no food, no medicine and no way of going anywhere or getting anything," he said in a July 19 phone interview from Amman, Jordan. "They are living in fear with one raid after another."

Archbishop Sayah was in Lebanon when the war began with Israel, and he arrived in Amman July 18, traveling through Damascus, Syria, and getting through only by "sheer providence," he said. He said he wanted to make the dangerous return trip to be with his people in Israel, some of whose communities have been hit by Katyusha rockets lobbed by Hezbollah militants.

"The Lebanese are also my people but my responsibility is here. ... (In) Haifa and (the village of) Jish they are scared. I can't help but feel the suffering of my people, and I am helpless," he said.

He noted that almost 95 percent of the casualties in Lebanon have been civilians, and the Lebanese feel like they have been "hijacked and used by everyone and his uncle." He said the current situation was "simply dirty politics" using "unthinkable means."

"Everyone who has a problem comes to settle it in Lebanon," he said.

The Israeli Defense Forces said it was "operating with great caution in order to avoid damage to civilians and are dropping leaflets warning the Lebanese public to stay clear of a certain areas from where rockets are launched against Israel."

"However, southern Lebanon is a combat zone in which Hezbollah terrorists operate against Israeli civilians from within the civilian Lebanese population, using them as human shields," the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement July 19.

Archbishop Sayah said, "What all of us should concentrate on ... right now is to stop this carnage; afterward we can talk about who did what."

However, he added that there needed to be some kind of proportionality.

"There is suffering enough, and my loyalty is here and my loyalty is there. I can't understand why the world is standing (by just) watching," he said.

Publicly, Israel says it is tired of the missile attacks and the kidnapping of soldiers by Hezbollah positioned in south Lebanon, and this time the country will continue retaliation until its abducted soldiers are returned. But TV analysts said Israel may be using this as an opportunity to get a message across to Hezbollah's main supporters in Iran and Syria.

Archbishop Sayah said he would be returning to Jerusalem within the next few days and would begin visiting members of the Maronite community in northern Israel.