Pope arrives in Lebanon, appeals for peace amid regional unrest

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BEIRUT -- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon on Friday and appealed for peace in the Middle East –- at a time when the region is awash in turmoil, including protests against an anti-Islam film.

On the first day of the pope’s scheduled three-day visit to the country, which has the Middle East’s largest percentage of Christians, he immediately waded into the conflict in neighboring Syria, calling the flow of weapons into the country a ‘grave sin.’

Many of the weapons rebels are using to fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad have been smuggled in from Lebanon.

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‘The import of weapons must be stopped, because without the weapons import the war could not continue,’ he said, according to the Associated Press. ‘We should import ideas of peace and creativity and find solutions to accept each other with our differences.’

Hours before his arrival in Lebanon, one protester was killed in the northern city of Tripoli when an angry crowd clashed with security forces who shot at the demonstrators to disperse them. The protesters had gathered to denounce the controversial anti-Islam film and had tried to storm a government building. They also set fire to a KFC/Hardee’s restaurant.

Despite the unrest, the state news agency said security in Beirut was low-key, and even the Shiite militant group Hezbollah hung banners along the airport highway welcoming the pope to the ‘homeland of coexistence.’

But the Associated Press reported that Lebanese authorities had also put strict security measures in place for the visit, including suspending weapons permits except for politicians’ bodyguards.

In addition to his comments about Syria, the pope praised the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings and said they were a result of a ‘desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation and for a renewed Arab identity.’


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-- Raja Abdulrahim