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Vatican calls for restraint in the Middle East
BY DOREEN ABI RAAD and JUDITH SUDILOVSKYCatholic News Service
JERUSALEM — The Vatican, a
Lebanese cardinal and a theologian in Israel criticized Israel’s reaction to
Hezbollah’s firing of rockets into the north of the country in mid-July.
Pope Benedict XVI is following
events in the Middle East with great concern
because “the latest dramatic events” risk “degenerating into a conflict with
international repercussions,” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano,
Vatican secretary of state.
The cardinal issued a statement
July 14 after the Middle East appeared to move a step closer to all-out war as
fighting spread north to Lebanon.
Israel bombed targets in Lebanon after members of Lebanon-based Hezbollah
crossed into Israel
and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
“As in the past, the Holy See
condemns both terrorist attacks on one side and military reprisals on the
other,” Cardinal Sodano said. “In fact, a state’s
right to defend itself does not exempt it from respecting the norms of
international law, especially as regards safeguarding civilian populations.
“In particular, the Holy See
deplores the attack on Lebanon,
a free and sovereign nation,” he said, adding that the Vatican is
close to the Lebanese people, “who already have suffered much to defend their
Although an unprovoked Hezbollah
attack on Israel in which
two soldiers were kidnapped and Katyusha rockets were
lobbed into northern cities is “unacceptable,” Israel’s
response is not “appropriate,” said a Catholic theologian in Jerusalem.
“I don’t know why Hezbollah did
what they did. It is unacceptable to [launch] rockets into Rosh Pina, Tzfat, Meron,
Haifa [in Israel]. I think Israel has to
react. They can’t tolerate the taking of soldiers, the Katyushas,”
said Father Michael McGarry, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Jerusalem. “They have to
do something in response, but killing civilians is not appropriate.”
Israel was holding Lebanon
responsible for the kidnapping and attacks as opposed to the past when they
only blamed Hezbollah, he added.
The United States considers Hezbollah a
terrorist organization. However, the Lebanese government regards Hezbollah as a
legitimate resistance movement fighting Israeli occupation of Lebanese
Hezbollah, with its Syrian and
Iranian patrons, has carved out its own territory in southern Lebanon and
many analysts say that the Lebanese army is not strong enough to confront
Hezbollah to prevent such attacks.
The Israeli reprisals for the
Hezbollah kidnapping included bombing the Beirut
airport and establishing a naval blockade of the country’s ports. The Lebanese
government said 47 people died in the Israeli bombardments July 13.
Hezbollah responded by firing
rocket and mortar shells into northern Israel; the Israeli government said July
14 that two people had been killed and more than 100 wounded in a dozen
different cities and villages. At the same time, Israel
continued its offensive in Gaza.
Israeli TV commentator Ehud Nahari said that perhaps Israel’s reaction was an attempt to weaken
Hezbollah so much that it would allow the Lebanese army to regain control of
the southern stretch of its country which borders Israel.
Israel in 2000 withdrew its forces from
southern Lebanon, where they
had been stationed since the end of the Lebanon war in 1985. From 1985 to
2000, together with the mostly-Maronite southern
Lebanese army, Israel
maintained a presence there against Hezbollah gunmen, creating a buffer zone
for northern Israel.
Although Israel needs to
react, there must be another way, Father McGarry
Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite
Catholic Church, said that both the capture of two Israeli soldiers by
Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the retaliation by Israel
in attacking Lebanon
is always paying the price for this [Israeli and Palestinian] conflict,” said
Cardinal Sfeir in a telephone interview while he was
staying in New Hampshire.
The cardinal, seen as a prominent
spokesperson for the Lebanese people, was in the United
States after he was a special guest for a July 2-9
convention of the National Apostolate of Maronites in
said he is trying to meet with someone in the Bush administration.
President Bush arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 14 for discussions
with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Group
of Eight summit of industrialized nations.
France and Russia
have criticized the Israeli attacks while Bush has said that Israel has a
right to defend itself. Bush also said he was worried the attacks could weaken Lebanon’s
democratic, anti-Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is
in charge of Christian sites in the Holy Land, said the Israeli response did
not come as a surprise.
“It was clear when Katyushas fell on Nahariya and Haifa the reaction of the
Israelis would be furious. I think it was an invitation for the Israelis [to
attack]. I think it is very sad,” said Father Pizzaballa.
“It is a very difficult situation. I don’t understand either the position of
Hezbollah or of Hamas, and not even Israel’s
One of the Hezbollah rockets that
landed in Haifa
hit only a few hundred yards from the Stella Maris
Carmelite Monastery where about 20 monks and nuns had gathered.
“Thank God it happened without
hurting any people,” said Sister Eliana Karram, superior of the monastery. “We pray for all these
things to stop. It is better for all sides that there [is] peace and quiet. No
people want this violence.”