Members of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group arrested Maronite Catholic archbishop Moussa El-Hage earlier this week upon his return to Lebanon from a trip to Israel.
El-Hage carries titles as the archbishop of the Archeparchy of Haifa and the Holy Land and the patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem and Palestine and Jordan.
The archbishop had traveled to Israel to raise funds for the Maronite community – a Christian sect of Syrian origin based in Lebanon that has suffered persecution and discrimination throughout history.
El-Hage’s detention at a border crossing in the southern Lebanese city of Naqoura has raised an uproar among Middle East Christians.
Local Lebanese media reported that the military court’s interrogation of the archbishop lasted eight hours. El-Hage was asked about his connection to Christian Lebanese expats who crossed the border to Israel as refugees following the Jewish state’s withdrawal from the border strip it controlled until year 2000.
El-Hage’s passport and cell phone reportedly were taken from him, as well as nearly half a million dollars in remittances and medicines that he was transferring on behalf of Lebanese Maronites in Israel to their relatives in Lebanon, amid a dire economic crisis.
One report said that the archbishop “felt humiliated” and that his religious role “was not taken into consideration.”
“Summoning Archbishop El-Hage for interrogation at the military court is not based on a certain suspicion, evidence or proof,” said Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Tuesday.
The lawmaker added that “visiting Maronite monasteries in the Holy Land and looking after their affairs is at the heart of his mission as the patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem and Palestine and Jordan.”
The Vatican’s envoy to Lebanon, Maltese Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, told the local press that El-Hage’s arrest sets a “dangerous” precedent. Lebanese activists and journalists have raised concerns about Lebanon’s military courts trying civilians and have sought changes to the practice.