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Christians in Lebanon fearful of attacks on churches - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Members of the Lebanese Christian Maronite community carry a statue and a sample of the blood of Saint John Paul II to Saint George Cathedral in downtown Beirut May 16, 2014. (Reuters)

Members of the Lebanese Christian Maronite community carry a statue and a sample of the blood of Saint John Paul II to Saint George Cathedral in downtown Beirut on May 16, 2014. (Reuters)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of Lebanon’s Central Council of Maronite Societies has warned of an upsurge in sectarian attacks against Christians by Islamist groups, amid fears that the sectarian violence in Syria and Iraq will continue to affect Lebanon.

Christians in Lebanon could face violent attacks by Sunni Islamist groups, Wadi Al-Khazen said in exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I call on Arab governments and all those concerned to take the initiative to activate means of protection and insist on the presence of Christians in the Middle East,” he said.

Lebanon’s Maronite Christian population worries that radical Sunni groups would be emboldened by last week’s declaration of a caliphate by the Al-Qaeda-breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Issam John Darwish, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Zahleh and Ferzul, in the Beqaa Valley region, said in a statement on Thursday: “Under these critical circumstances, the responsibility for the protection of Christians in Beqaa, Lebanon and the Mashreq falls on Muslims in general and Sunnis in particular.”

A tweet on Wednesday from an account under the name of Liwa Ahrar Al-Sunnah (the Free Sunnis Brigade) caused a stir in Lebanon after it declared it had “assigned a special group of free jihadists to cleanse the Islamic emirate of Beqaa in particular, and Lebanon in general, of polytheist [i.e., Christian] churches.”

The Twitter account pledged to target “the crusaders,” a reference to the Christian community, asking Sunni Muslims to “keep away from and avoid coming near polytheist churches across Lebanon for their safety.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a source in the Lebanese security services said: “The competent authorities are investigating the threats to churches,” highlighting that tight security measures will be taken in Christian-majority areas.

But Darwish reassured Christians in Beqaa, dismissing the threats as “not serious.”