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20160628T1004 4282 CNS MIDEAST CRISIS LEBANON 800Lebanese women hold guns June 28 in front of journalists in the village of Qaa, where suicide bomb attacks took place in the Bekaa valley. Suicide bombers attacked the predominantly Christian village twice in one day June 27 in northeast Lebanon. (CNS photo/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)

BEIRUT (CNS) -- Suicide bombers attacked a predominantly Christian village in northeast Lebanon twice in one day, and residents called on the government to support them, saying Islamic State fighters were holed up on the outskirts of town.

Two separate sets of four suicide bombers attacked the village of Qaa June 27; the first attack killed five people in addition to the bombers. About 30 people were injured in the two incidents, the second of which occurred near St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church as people were preparing for the funerals of the people killed in the first bombing.

The incidents sparked fears that the Syrian civil war was spilling into Lebanon; Qaa is near the border with Syria's Homs district. Local news reports and security sources said the Islamic State group was suspected of the attacks, but no one claimed responsibility. The Lebanese Army has indicated Islamic State hopes to force the Christian community to leave the village and, by controlling Qaa, its militants will be able to start ensure a corridor to the Mediterranean Sea.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Rahal of Baalbek traveled to Qaa after the first attack and told Catholic News Service by phone: "We pray, we pray, we pray for the dead, for the injured. ... We are here for the families and for their children," he said, because people "are shaken by these terrorists."

The sounds of people wailing could be heard in the background as he spoke to CNS.

"Despite all that has happened," he said, the Christians are holding on to their faith and are determined to maintain their presence in the area. "We are here and we are here to stay."

Before the second blast, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham had visited with wounded who had been taken to a Beirut hospital, about 90 miles from the village.

Residents of Qaa had organized patrols to guard their village against such attacks and had been successful until these suicide bombings. The village has a population of about 15,000, predominantly Melkite Catholic, with some Maronite Catholic and Orthodox. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Syrian refugees also live in the area.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, issued a statement June 27 during a pastoral visit to New York, expressing his "extreme sorrow" over the bombings.

"The hand of terror carried out once again on Lebanon's soil ... in the dear town of Qaa , a town of peace, love and coexistence," he said.

He called on the Lebanese to "return to their national unity and solidarity to confront the terrorist schemes that are being plotted against Lebanon" and urged the Lebanese officials to "shoulder their national responsibilities in order to spare Lebanon more tragedies."

Lebanon's army has periodically fought off jihadist factions along the border area with Syria and has sought to clamp down on local cells operating in the area.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.