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Lebanon PM declares Lebanon's solidarity with Iraq Christians

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Beirut_(dpa) _ Lebanon's Premier Fouad Seniora declared Lebanon's solidarity with Iraq's Christians on Sunday and urged their speedy return to their homes.

"The Lebanese people back all efforts exerted by the Iraqi government to safeguard the social fabric of the state of Iraq," a statement released to local media reported Seniora as saying to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in a phone conversation.

In recent weeks hundreds of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes in and around the northern-Iraqi city of Mosul. Christians have been targeted both Shi'a and Sunni Muslim militias, and also by criminal gangs.

"Christians in Iraq, as in any other Arab state, are an integral component of the national fabric," Seniora stressed.

He said the "pluralist nature of our societies is based on values and ethics from both Christianity and Islam."

Lebanon has a growing Iraqi refugee population, currently numbering between 20,000 and 40,000, according to the UN. An estimated 2 million Iraqis who have fled the violence in their country.

Many of the Christian refugees arrived from Syria on mountain paths used by smugglers, bringing with them little more than a suitcase or two, and harrowing stories of rape, kidnapping and murder.

The Bishop of the headquarters of the Chaldean church in Lebanon, Michael Kisargi, said his church receives daily more than six families and they tell "horrific stories about their ordeals," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"Everyone can tell me a story about persecution by Muslims." One of the worst, he said, was from a family whose daughter had been raped 15 times by militia members.

"The Christians in Iraq are in danger and all the world should step in to stop this massacre," the bishop said.

"They feel comfortable in Lebanon because they feel Christians are so far protected," he added.

Kisargi said the Iraqi Christian refugees in Lebanon rely largely on support from NGOs such as the Catholic charity Caritas, that has helped refugees of all religious backgrounds.

"We can't continue in such a situation," said Kisargi, whose congregation has been supplying refugees with food and medicine and help finding homes. "We are a poor church and the situation is getting worse." dpa wh jbl

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