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Israeli bombs up Hezbollah support says world church delegation


Continued Israeli bombing of Lebanon is strengthening support amongst the Lebanese people for the Hezbollah movement, says an international church delegation in Beirut. They reiterated the appeal of local religious leaders for an immediate cease-fire as aid workers said fear is gripping everyone in the Lebanese capital.

"There’s one word that has to be spoken and voiced as clearly as possible – an immediate cease-fire," French cleric the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, part of a delegation led by the World Council of Churches visiting Beirut and Jerusalem, told Ecumenical News International.

De Clermont, president of the Protestant Federation of France, said the group had met all the country’s main religious leaders, Christian and Muslim, as well as Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.

"Their message is, ‘Tell the nations they must not wait one more day to day to press Israel for a cease-fire’," noted de Clermont, who is also president of the Conference of European Churches.  "Our message to churches around the world is: ‘Voice this to your own government.’"

The delegation also includes French Roman Catholic Archbishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin and left for Lebanon on 9 August. It is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem after leaving the Lebanese capital.

"The [Lebanon] church leaders say we must look to the future, and the future means Arabs and Jews living together in the same region, and if Israel goes on bombing they will be preparing generations of people who will hate them," warned de Clermont.

"None of them can understand why Lebanon is being broken into pieces," he said. "They understand that the capture of two Israeli soldiers is not a good thing, but no one can understand in this country why bridges are being broken down, why there is bombing in this suburb. We had 10 bombs at five o’clock in the morning," de Clermont said.

In the first few days after the conflict started, people still felt relatively safe moving around the central parts of their capital city, as the Israeli air strikes happened mostly at night. Now they say that they never feel completely safe. The bombs are dropped early in the morning, late in the afternoon and in the early evening.

"When I hear the bombs, I just panic," said Hana, a 26-year old woman, who sat quietly by herself in a centre for the internally displaced, where the Middle East Council of Churches with support from the global alliance Action by Churches Together International, is providing assistance. She fled south Lebanon without any of her personal belongings. She is eight months pregnant. "I get so scared and I am afraid that all the stress will affect my baby."

De Clermont noted: "If Israel feels the pressure on Lebanon will introduce division inside this society between Hezbollah and the rest of society, it’s a total mistake. We were struck by the fact that all the people were at one in saying that Hezbollah are Lebanese people and we will not break with them."

Lebanon’s spiritual leaders had issued a statement saying they condemned violence, and rejected the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah that helped spark the conflict, the French church leader noted. But they also said they supported Hezbollah at the present time because, they said, "Hezbollah are the ones who are resisting an invasion."

He noted, "There will be enormous work to do in rebuilding Lebanon." The message of the churches is, he said, that with such destruction, "the future becomes more and more difficult."

(c) Ecumenical News International