Al-Rahi Vows to Help Displaced Arab Israelis

The Maronite Patriarch vowed Wednesday to help the displaced Christians of a village in northern Israel, as he pushed forward with a controversial trip to the Jewish state.

In 1948, six months after Israel was established, the army asked Iqrit and Kufr Bir'im's residents to leave their homes for two weeks because of military operations in the area.

But they were never allowed to go back. The army razed most of Iqrit in 1951 and did the same to Kufr Bir'im two years later.

"We are with you and we will help you however we can," Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi told exiled villagers of Kufr Bir'im, near the border, who now live in nearby towns and cities.

"We will work through the Vatican and lobby the pope until the world hears your case," he said, two days after Pope Francis wound up a historic visit to the Holy Land.

In a letter to the pontiff, the people of Kufr Bir'im and Iqrit, all of them Catholics, begged Francis to "intensify" efforts to pressure Israel to end the injustice inflicted upon their community.

Al-Rahi's visit, timed to coincide with that of the pope, was condemned by media close to Hizbullah, which said travelling to arch-enemy Israel would be a "sin."

The trip is diplomatically noteworthy because Lebanon remains technically at war with Israel and bans its citizens from entering the Jewish state.

But Maronite clergy are permitted to travel to Israel to minister to the estimated 10,000 faithful there.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse

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