Roman Catholic leader Pope Benedict XVI today denounced arms provisions to Syria as he arrived in Lebanon for a visit to a region rocked by protest over a US-made video critical of Islam, according to the Associated Press.
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The Pope told reporters as he landed in Beirut that those providing weapons to Syria, where armed rebels and government forces have been locked in an 18-battle for control, commit a "grave sin," reported AP.
Lebanon is home to the region's largest Christian population, said AP, but the Papal visit comes as Coptic Christians express growing fears of retaliatory attacks after it was revealed that a Coptic Christian is behind the incendiary anti-Islam film that has stirred widespread anger in the region. Protests over the film were held in a number of countries in the region today.
Coptic Christians are therefore expected to follow the major Catholic leader's three-day visit in the region closely. Their community is part of the Roman Catholic Church as an independent rite, and the group on Thursday announced they will elect a new pope in December.
Benedict's message of peace comes amid ongoing violence in neighboring Syria that is believed supported by weapons provided by everyone from Al Qaeda (to the rebels, according to the US) to Iran-backed Hezbollah group (to the regime, again according to the US). Syrian activists say the violence there has killed a total of 25,000 people.
Hezbollah welcomed the Pontiff's arrival today by way of a huge French and Arabic banner that read: "Hezbollah welcomes the pope in the homeland of coexistence," according to Reuters.
Lebanese authorities heightened security measures ahead of the Pope's visit, said AP.