In an interview at his official residence, Cardinal Bechara Rai told international Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need: “There are no problems arising from Muslims and Christians living together in Lebanon. All Lebanese want to live together. Our greatest problem is the Syrian refugees. These comprise over 1.5 million people. Of course, it is our humanitarian duty to help. And the Church is doing a great deal. However, most of them are Sunnis. They can be exploited both politically and religiously by the Lebanese Sunnis.

“We already had this experience with the Palestinians. They started the civil war in the 1970s against the Lebanese and the Lebanese Army. At the time they were joined by the Lebanese Sunnis. This could happen again. This is a ticking bomb. The war in Syria and in Iraq has to end so that the people can return. Time is not on our side.”

Sheltering the large number of Syrian refugees also has economic consequences. “The Syrians want to eat, of course. And so they work for lower wages than the Lebanese. This means that the Lebanese lose their jobs. They open up shops that undercut the prices of Lebanese shops. This is why a number of Lebanese have emigrated. This also has grave social and cultural consequences,” the Patriarch explained.

 “What will remain of Lebanon and Lebanese culture in the long term when more than 1.5 million Syrians are living in our country,” he asked, adding that “this also has an effect on the Christians in Lebanon. The Christians want freedom and a good life. This is why they are selling their possessions and emigrating. There is a danger that the Middle East will gradually lose its Christian presence. The West must realize the gravity of the situation.”

 “The politicians need to understand that the war in Syria has to end. The international community has to stop fomenting and fostering the war. The arms trade has to stop. They have to set their pride aside, sit down at one table and find a political solution. But their pride will not allow this,” he said, charging that “economic interests such as gas and oil are behind” this attitude.

The cardinal said that “Assad did not fall like Mubarak in Egypt or Ben Ali in Tunisia, who were opposed by the entire population. This is not the case in Syria. Elections were recently held that confirmed Assad as president. The West does not want to recognize these elections.”

He insisted that governments have “to talk with Assad. The dialogue between government and opposition is crucial.”