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          Sep. 18, 2014



Caritas Lebanon: stop conflict in Mideast and help victims


Syrian refugee children line up for vaccinations at a camp in south Lebanon

(Vatican Radio): Caritas Lebanon’s President is appealing to the international community to intervene to end the crises in Syria and Iraq and assist the millions of people displaced by conflict. Fr. Paul Karam describes the current refugee crisis in Lebanon as “tragic,” with 1.6 million Syrians living out in the open or housed in tents and makeshift shelters. The number of Syrian refugees alone, he notes, represents more than one third of Lebanon’s current population of some 4 million.

In addition to Syrians fleeing the nearly four year conflict in their country, he recalls that Lebanon continues to host 500,000 Palestinian refugees who escaped across the border during the 1948 Arab/Israeli war. This is a weighty legacy that Lebanon continues to bear some sixty years on, the prelate relates, and “the Palestinian problem (has not yet been) resolved.”

The recent upsurge in violence in Iraq against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, has further strained Lebanon’s resources, Fr. Karam adds. Some four hundred Iraqi families have arrived looking for safety while “still others are waiting to come; especially among them there are Christians, a few Yazidi families, and this - just for the number (of people) - is a problem.”

The Lebanese prelate expresses dismay over the overwhelming prospect of having to feed and give water to so many people. Lebanon is struggling “even to welcome them,” and to provide enough electricity for the entire country, he admits. Caritas’ particular concern now, Karam affirms, is how to provide shelter for all those who need it, especially as winter lies just two months off. Other priorities for Caritas: healthcare and the provision of hygiene kits to families.

The Lebanese are also concerned that the Syrian conflict continues to spill over their border. Islamic State and Nusra Front extremists have been waging fierce battles with Lebanese army troops in some areas along Lebanon’s border with Syria, particularly in the north eastern town of Arsal. IS (formerly Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has beheaded two Lebanese soldiers and holds dozens of other security personnel captive. Most aid agencies have evacuated the area due to security concerns, leaving many locals to rely on the militants for basic necessities. Some have even joined the Sunni extremists.

Lebanon’s security is on the line, Karam notes, saying tension has increased among the country’s Sunni and Shia Muslims, many of whom have chosen sides in the Syrian conflict. The Shia militant group Hezbollah, a party in the Lebanese government, has sent its own fighters into Syria to assist President Assad’s army against the opposition while some Lebanese Sunni sympathizers have crossed the border to fight alongside Syrian rebels.

This is a problem for the entire region, Fr. Karam continues, “you cannot impose a solution, but the solution must be within the (interests) and the vision of each country. We cannot accept that such problems still remain in all this region without having a solution. What was the solution of the Palestinian crisis…of sixty years ago? Now in Syria, this is the third year (of conflict) and now we are beginning the fourth year. Shall we wait more and more?” Even Lebanon’s past is tainted by an 18 year war, he notes. “Why is all this region like a volcano in eruption always? Why? The people in our lands need to have peace. They look for peace, and especially for true justice.”