Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported Thursday that Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who is currently on a landmark visit to Israel, said he would ask Lebanese authorities to allow former members of the South Lebanon Army to return to their homeland.
The SLA fought alongside Israel during the latter’s maintenance of the security sone, a 17-kilometer stretch of Lebanese territory north of the Israeli border following the 1982 Operatio Peace for Galilee. The organization collapsed after Israel dismantled the security zone in May, 2000, and thousands of SLA soldiers fled to Israel, many with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Meeting with former SLA soldiers Capernaum, a Christian holy site overlooking the Kinneret, Rai said, “You are among those who are paying the expense of a certain international and regional plot. We are following up on your sufferings with authorities in Lebanon.”
The paper reported Rai, who accompanied Pope Francis to Israel but was sharply criticised in Lebanon for “granting legitimacy” to the Jewish state, is the first Lebanese religious leader to visit Israel despite the formal state of war between the countries. Hezbollah, the controlling force in south Lebaon, issued a thinly-veiled threat to the Patriarch that the visit could have “dangerous and negative repercussions.”