(Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai attends a memorial ceremony for victims killed in a militant attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in 2010, at the Church in Baghdad October 31, 2011. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed during an attack on the church on October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Saad Shalash )

(Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Baghdad October 31, 2011.  REUTERS/Saad Shalash )

A planned visit by the head of the Maronite church to Jerusalem has stirred an outcry in Lebanon, which is still technically at war with its southern neighbour Israel.

Lebanon’s Patriarch Beshara al-Rai said last week he would join Pope Francis during a May 24-26 tour of the Holy Land, a visit that would make him the first Maronite patriarch to do so since its creation in 1948.

Supporters say the trip will help affirm Jerusalem’s multi-religious character, while critics have accused the church leader of legitimising a state many Arabs see as a symbol of injustice, humiliation and occupation.

“We cannot find words to describe it other than as a terrible mistake which history books will remember in deep red,” read an article in the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.