Suleiman Grants al-Rahi Order of Cedar, Urges Officials to Attend Dialogue

President Michel Suleiman reiterated on Saturday calls for Lebanese foes to attend the all-party talks, urging officials not to favor any side in the Syrian conflict.

“Everyone should attend the national dialogue and officials shouldn't favor neither the Syrian regime nor the opposition,” Suleiman said after granting Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara al-Rahi the National Order of the Cedar medal, Lebanon's highest honor.

The assassination of Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau head Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan on October 19 has raised fears about unrest in the country, which is divided between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose country supervised its small neighbor for nearly 30 years.

The Ashrafiyeh bombing in Beirut that killed Hasan along with two others deepened the gap between the March 14 alliance and the March 8 coalition.

The opposition rejects attending the national dialogue before the government resigns and demands the formation of a neutral salvation cabinet as the only way to defuse the tension in the country.

For his part, al-Rahi called on the Lebanese to seek “to make Lebanon a model country for dialogue, neutral and committed to peace and justice.”

Pope Benedict XVI formally elevated on Saturday al-Rahi and five other prelates at a ceremony that was held at St. Peter's Basilica, bestowing red hats and gold rings on them.

His choice to elevate al-Rahi is seen by observers as a sign of Vatican support for religious diversity in Lebanon, which Benedict said was a "model" for the region during a visit in September.

The pope has called for peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity and has said Christians should stay in the Middle East despite rising Islamism.

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