Lebanese Government Seeks Vatican Help in Ending Israel-Hezbollah Conflict

Lebanon turned Wednesday to the Vatican for help in pressing for a cease-fire in the Middle East, dispatching the son of assassinated premier Rafik Hariri to meet with the Holy See's secretary of state.

Vatican officials said Cardinal Angelo Sodano met Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament whose father's assassination last year led to massive protests that drove Syria out of Lebanon.

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Hariri was scheduled to meet Italian Premier Romano Prodi and Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema on Thursday. Italy has been playing the role of what Prodi calls a "facilitator" in efforts to defuse the crisis.

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The Vatican-affiliated news agency Asia News reported Wednesday that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had telephoned Sodano a day earlier to seek the Vatican's help in pressing for a cease-fire.

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Pope Benedict XVI, during an appearance to pilgrims on Sunday during his vacation in the Italian Alps, lamented civilian deaths in the conflict and appealed to leaders to "return to the path of reason" and open dialogue.

Last week, Sodano said the Holy See condemned both terrorist attacks on one side of the conflict and the military retaliation of Israel against targets in Lebanon.

Lebanon has a large Maronite Catholic population.

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