Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai spoke at a Mass attended by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, praising the “good intentions” of welcoming refugees from war and persecution. He said however that the burden of caring for 2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon is straining the people of Lebanon. “Even with all our solidarity with the refugees, the Lebanese hope that the process to guarantee them a safe return to their country,” the Patriarch said.

The strain of providing for refugees has caused some Lebanese to leave the country, said the Patriarch. On the Lebanese military has fallen the task of conducting security operations in some of the refugee camps where Syrian Islamist militant factions have begun to arm and organize themselves. The Patriarch complained that "two million refugees and displaced persons on the national territory who deprive the Lebanese people of their means of subsistence, leaving them in poverty and deprivation, and pushing new generations to emigrate."

In addition, the Patriarch denounced “rampant corruption” in Lebanon as well as what he called a  "sectarian race in the cornering of public office."

The issue of Syrian refugees has become central to national political debate in Lebanon again after the security operations were carried out by Lebanese forces in some refugee camps. Confrontations with armed Syrian anti-Assad militants were marked by violence and explosions, which caused the death of some civilians. In recent days, demonstrations were planned for Beirut to repudiate the violence suffered by Syrian refugees but also in support of the Lebanese armed forces. However, two demonstrations were banned by the Interior Ministry to protect public order and avoid possible clashes.
 

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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