Christian anger as Lebanese archbishop summoned to court for visit to Israeli parish

Christian anger as Lebanese archbishop summoned to court for visit to Israeli parish
Archbishop Mussa al-Hajj, like other Christian religious leaders, is allowed to cross Lebanon's southern border to visit his parish in Israel. His detention and summons to a military court on his return have sparked Christian outrage.
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Lebanon's Maronite Christian leaders have expressed their outrage after an archbishop was summoned to court [Getty]

A senior Lebanese Maronite cleric's detention and military court summons after a trip to his parish in Israel drew indignant reactions from Christian leaders on Wednesday.

As the Patriarch of the Diocese of Haifa and the Maronite Holy Land, Mussa al-Hajj is, along with other Christian religious figures, allowed to cross Lebanon's southern border and enter Israel, unlike regular Lebanese citizens.

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While Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war, Hajj visited Israel because he heads a community of Lebanese Christian Maronites living there, many of whom are refugees who collaborated with Israel during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

But he was questioned for eight hours earlier this week upon his return from Israel, local media said, before a military court summoned him for further questioning Wednesday.

Hajj on Wednesday ignored the military court summons, issued for violating boycott laws imposed on Israel and for involvement in money laundering, an official close to the case said, asking for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi was due to discuss the case with his advisory board Wednesday and Samir Geagea, who heads the biggest Christian parliamentary bloc, condemned the priest's arrest in a statement.

Geagea said that Lebanon's general security agency had carried out the arrest and initial questioning of Hajj, and described the move as "not at all understandable."

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Archbishop Mussa was bringing aid from Lebanese nationals in Israel to relatives back home who have been hit by Lebanon's crisis, the anonymous official added.

Many Lebanese rely on remittances from family abroad to weather a crushing economic crisis that began in 2019, but transporting products or money from Israel to Lebanon is illegal.

Security forces seized "large quantities of medicines, foodstuffs and canned goods, enough to fill a car, in addition to $460,000" when he re-entered Lebanon, the anonymous official said.

Archbishop Mussa handed Lebanese authorities a six-page list containing hundreds of beneficiaries' names, with each person or family expecting between $100 and $500 from relatives in Israel, the official added.

Nadim Gemayel, a lawmaker from the Christian Kataeb party, dubbed the arrest "an attack on the Maronite Church."

The case comes amid tense political jockeying ahead of a presidential election later this year that will see the post go to a Maronite under the country's sectarian political system.