Pope makes landmark Lebanon trip
BEIRUT / ALEPPO
Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon comes as the region sees rising tensions. EPA PhotoPope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 14 to urge peace at a time of great turmoil in the Middle East, saying the import of weapons to Syria during the country’s civil war is a “grave sin.”
The pontiff was welcomed by top leaders including the Lebanese president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker as well as Christian and Muslim religious leaders. Cannons fired a 21-shot salute for the pope. The pope told reporters on the plane that imports of weapons to Syria are a “grave sin.” Syria’s rebels have appealed for weapons shipments to help them fight the regime. He also described the Arab Spring that has already removed four long-serving dictators as “positive.” “It is the desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity,” the pope said. He warned against the risk that the push for more freedom could end in intolerance for other religions.
The pope denounced religious fundamentalism, calling it “a falsification of religion.” “Let me assure you that I pray especially for the many people who suffer in this region,” he said upon arrival.
Benedict, the third pope to visit Lebanon after Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 1997, will be addressing concerns of the region’s bishops over the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
In the meantime, U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was set to meet top Syrian officials and opposition leaders tolerated by the regime as he attempts to persuade all sides in what he says is a rapidly worsening conflict to lay down their arms.
Syria regime ‘nears’ its end
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sept. 14 at a conference in the Ukrainian Black Sea resort of Yalta that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was nearing its “inevitable” end despite violence threatening the entire region. “A public movement in Syria has started and is spreading all across the country. No power can stop this movement,” he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held a phone conversation with Brahimi on Sept. 14. They discussed the latest developments pertaining to Syrian refugees.
On the ground, Syrian regime forces used fighter jets and helicopter gunships to pound the city and province of Aleppo, where fierce clashes raged around a military airport, monitors said.
Compiled from AP, AA, AFP stories by the Daily News staff.