Mar Bisharah Al Rai Image Credit: Supplied

Beirut: In a bold interview with SkyNewsArabia, Maronite Patriarch Mar Bisharah Al Rai has slammed the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group for its involvement in the Syria war.

He said the decision to participate in the war, which helped bolster Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, contributed to division in Lebanese society.

“Hezbollah disregarded Lebanon’s dissociation policy,” the Cardinal said, the first time he has spoken with such openness on the issue.

From the onset of the war, Lebanese politicians collectively agreed on a policy to not involve themselves in the Syria war — in an effort to spare the war-ridden country from further conflict.

Al Rai’s comments come at a time where GCC relations with Lebanon are at an all-time low, due to Iran’s growing influence over its politicians and institutions.

In January, Lebanese President Aoun travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, on his first presidential foreign visit.

Lebanese hoped the visit would restore vital economic ties and that Saudi Arabia would give Lebanon $3 billion (Dh11 billion) to purchase French weapons for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) which it had previously withheld after Jibran Bassil, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who heads the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement, voted against the unanimous Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation resolutions that condemned the January 5, 2016 Iranian attacks on Saudi missions in Iran.

However, a planned follow-up visit by King Salman to Lebanon was cancelled after Aoun praised Hezbollah and backed the militia’s right to bear arms alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) during an interview with Egyptian TV.

Al Rai’s comments reveal widespread fear in the country over Hezbollah’s arms — the Cardinal called the situation “abnormal”.

Aside from maverick former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, other Lebanese politicians notably did not comment on Al Rai’s interview, reflecting a deep fear in the country to speak out against Hezbollah.

Rifi, a Sunni politician from Tripoli who does not miss an opportunity to lash out at Iran and Syria, backed the Cardinal and emphasised the importance of upholding the sovereignty of the nation.

“Hezbollah’s weapons are being used by Iran as a tool for chaos to achieve expansionist ambitions,” he said, adding that they directly negate the interests of Lebanon, its stability and its relations with Arab states.