At Sleiman's funeral, al-Rahi says refugees a 'threat' but urges against attacking them


Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Friday presided over the funeral service of slain Lebanese Forces official Pascal Sleiman in Jbeil.

“We are the sons of no-fear, that’s why we do not fear and we shall not be scared,” al-Rahi said in his sermon.

“There has been a lot of evil on Lebanon’s soil and what’s important is to unveil the objectives behind the crime of the assassination of Pascal Sleiman and those behind it, seeing as the truth will certainly appear,” the patriarch added.

Hailing the “courage” of Sleiman’s widow, al-Rahi said that she has urged against “the approach of vengeance and incitement” and called for “pacifying the atmosphere and confidence in military and security agencies, especially in the army, which has managed to unveil the perpetrators.”

“The displaced Syrians have become a threat to the Lebanese in the heart of their homeland and it has become urgent to find a final solution for controlling their presence, with the international and local sides, away from clashes and attacks that would have dire consequences,” the patriarch added.

“There is no president and there is chaos in state institutions, ministries and public administrations, amid the proliferation of arms in the hands of citizens and foreigners on Lebanon’s soil. Who benefits from chaos and from the presence of the war and peace decision outside the state?” al-Rahi asked.

Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi has vowed to get tough on Syrians after several were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Sleiman’s killing, in a case that has triggered an uproar in the country and caused political tensions.

Anti-Syrian sentiment has soared following the Sunday disappearance and death of Sleiman, a coordinator in the Jbeil area for the Lebanese Forces, a party opposed to the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Sleiman was killed in what the Lebanese army said was a carjacking by Syrian gang members, who took his body to Syria.

His party said it would consider his death a "political assassination until proven otherwise."

Many Lebanese, including politicians, have long pushed for Syrians who have fled 13 years of civil war at home to return, blaming them for exacerbating Lebanon's woes, including a crushing economic crisis that began in 2019.

Mawlawi warned that "this country cannot withstand problems and sectarian strife."

The security forces have been instructed "to strictly enforce Lebanese laws on Syrian refugees," he told reporters after a security meeting about Sleiman's killing.

"We will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with those (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally," Mawlawi added, urging people to stop renting apartments informally to Syrians.

He also called for "limiting the presence of Syrians" in the country, without saying how.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib for his part called the number of Syrians a "problem."

The army had said on Monday that the car thieves had transported the body to Syria following the killing.

- 'Sectarian strife' -

Social media users also blamed Hezbollah, whose chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday denied involvement.

The Lebanese Forces said in a statement that Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon, "has impeded the state's role and its effectiveness, paving the way for weapons-bearing gangs" and "chaos."

Hezbollah has been trading near daily cross-border fire with the Israeli military since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October, raising tensions in Lebanon and sparking opposition from the Lebanese Forces and other parties.

On Monday evening, hundreds of people blocked roads in Jbeil, while footage circulated on social media of violence against Syrians.

The United Nations refugee agency says more than 800,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the body in Lebanon, noting registrations have been suspended since 2015 following a government ruling.

- 'Impunity' -

Ramzi Kaiss from the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said Lebanon must ensure "the investigation into the killing is thorough and transparent in light of decades of impunity in Lebanon for politically sensitive killings."

"Attempts to scapegoat the entire refugee population are deplorable" and "threaten to fuel already ongoing violence against Syrians in Lebanon," Kaiss told AFP.

A Lebanese judicial official said security forces had arrested seven Syrians on suspicion of involvement in Sleiman's killing.

"The kidnappers admitted that their goal was stealing the victim's car," the official said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

According to the official, the suspects told investigators they hit Sleiman in the head and face with pistol butts then threw him into the boot of his car and drove him to neighboring Syria. He died along the way.

A military official, also requesting anonymity, said Damascus had handed over three suspects, adding that Sleiman's body was found in a lawless border area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor of the country's civil war, said Sleiman's body was dumped in a border area where Hezbollah holds sway, adding that he "was wrapped in a blanket and had been hit on the head and chest with a hard object."

Comments 0