Lebanon Maronite patriarch to visit Syria: church

Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai will visit Damascus on Sunday to attend the enthronement of Syria's Greek Orthodox leader, Yuhanna X Yazigi, the Lebanese church said.

"Yes, he will (attend)," the head of the Greek Orthodox church in Damascus said Saturday in answer to a question. "He has been invited and all guests will take part."

The ceremony is to be held at 8:30 am (0630 GMT) on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Cross in Qassaa, a central neighbourhood of the conflict-hit Syrian capital.

It will be the first visit to Syria by a Maronite patriarch since the country's independence in 1943, according to anti-Syrian regime Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.

"The participation of several church leaders is a way to express solidarity between churches while Syria is in crisis, a crisis for Christians in Syria," the daily added.

Christians represent about five percent of the population in Syria, where rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are locked in a civil war the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.

Bishop Rai was elected in March 2011 as the 77th patriarch of Lebanon's Maronites, the country's largest Christian community which makes up about one third of the four-million population.

In January, he strongly denounced states that provide money, weapons and other assistance to both the Assad regime and its opponents, saying they would have to answer "crimes court of history".

Yuhanna X Yazigi was chosen as the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East on December 17, replacing Ignatius IV Hazim who died earlier in the same month.

Many of Syria's Christians have remained neutral in the country's conflict. Others have taken Assad's side, for fear of the rise of Islamism.