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Statement on the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon

26 May 2000

Issued by the General Secretary in Geneva, 26 May 2000.

The World Council of Churches has closely followed the events in Lebanon since the 1978 Israeli invasion of the country that led to massive loss of human lives and continuing tragedy in the region. The Council on several occasions expressed its concern at these developments and called on the parties in Lebanon to renounce violence and seek harmonious community relations in order to work together for a united and sovereign Lebanon committed to justice, development and peace in the Middle East.

The World Council of Churches shares in the jubilation of the Lebanese people at the withdrawal of the Israeli security forces. The action of the Israeli government is in keeping with the spirit of the United Nations Resolutions 425 and 426, the implementation of which have been a long-standing demand of the Council. We hope and pray that this significant development will enhance internal unity and a spirit of cooperation amongst the people of Lebanon, who have suffered much as a result of the ongoing tensions and conflict in the region.

The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon by itself will not bring the much needed stability and peace in the region, though it could be a step in that direction. A comprehensive, just and lasting peace can only be achieved through the full implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions. It is our hope that the implementation of UN Resolutions 425 and 426 will result in ensuring progress in the remaining tracks of the Middle East peace process.

The Council appreciates and is supportive of the United Nations' efforts to stabilize the situation and to assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the territory from which the Israeli troops have just withdrawn. During the transition period it is essential that the lives and properties of the civilian population on both sides of the international border be duly safeguarded. Towards this end all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid recourse to violence that could lead to an escalation of the present tension and conflict.

The World Council of Churches welcomes the release of the Lebanese detained as hostages by the Israeli Security Forces. The Council while welcoming the resettlement of expelled Lebanese families expresses its concern about the ultimate fate of the stateless Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and reiterates their right of return to their homeland.

We are also encouraged by the assurances of the President of Lebanon, H. E. Mr Lahoud that the Lebanese authorities would immediately begin to rebuild this devastated area.

The member churches of the World Council have played a significant role in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. The Council is committed to stand in solidarity with its member churches in the region, especially in Lebanon, in their ministry to rebuild and establish peace and reconciliation in their land. The Council calls on its members to take an active part in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Lebanon as well in peace-building initiatives. The relief and humanitarian assistance arm of the Council, Action by Churches Together (ACT) is in the process of issuing an appeal in this connection.