The Daily Star
December 8, 2009 - 1:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stressed Monday Lebanon’s full authority and sovereignty over all Palestinian refugees camps while underscoring that the refugees’ presence was temporary, until a comprehensive peace solution was reached. “There are no legions under the command of the Palestinian authority in refugee camps and we would cooperate with the Lebanese state to the extent the latter allows, since the camps are Lebanese territories upon which the Palestinians live; thus Lebanon has full sovereignty over them,” Abbas said Monday, following his meeting with President Michel Sleiman.

“The status of Palestinian refugees will remain unchanged until a comprehensive, final solution is reached” with Israel,” Abbas added, in an apparent attempt to quell Lebanese fears of the naturalization of Palestinian refugees.

Abbas stressed that the Palestinian authority would cooperate with the Lebanese government as much as the latter wished, with regard to armed Palestinian groups within refugees camps.

“We as a Palestinian authority put ourselves under the service of the Lebanese Cabinet as we hope that any disagreement among the domestic parties would not reflect on Palestinian refugees’ factions in any country they live in,” Abbas added.

Abbas also discussed with Sleiman Lebanon’s role as a member of the UN Security Council in supporting the Palestinian people’s right to declare their own state.

“We believe there is no alternative to peace but peace itself, and we will continue our political fight for peace,” he said in a news conference.

The Palestinian leader also discussed bilateral ties with parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose government is expected to tackle the issue of the civil rights among refugees.

His trip comes amid renewed efforts to revive the Middle East peace process and concern among Lebanon’s leadership that any deal on the issue of Palestinian refugees would be at the expense of the Lebanese and could threaten the country’s confessional balance.

The Palestinian president says he was “keen” for reconciliation with his militant Hamas rivals so that Palestinians can hold new elections by June 2010.

Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas have been at odds since the militant group overran Gaza in June 2007. The move left Fatah in control only of the West Bank.

Egypt has been trying to broker a reconciliation deal between the sides, which would include presidential and legislative elections next year.

Hamas rejected the deal in October, demanding it be amended to say the Palestinians may keep fighting Israel.

Abbas told reporters at Baabda palace he is ready to move forward with the vote “anytime Hamas” agrees to the deal.

The nomination of a Palestinian Ambassador in Lebanon, said Abbas following his meeting with Hariri, is pending several procedures which necessitate the approval of the Lebanese state.

Abbas said this process would begin with the Cabinet approval of the nominated ambassador and then his appointment.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) lists almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

But Lebanese and Palestinian officials say the actual number may be as low as 250,000 as UNRWA does not strike off its figures those who move to other countries.

The majority of the refugees live in dire conditions in 12 camps across the country of four million inhabitants and are denied basic civil rights.

Lebanon’s constitution stipulates Palestinian refugees cannot take on Lebanese citizenship. The refugees also are prevented from practicing most professions or owning property.

Rights groups and experts warn the poor camp conditions and the fact they are off-limits to the Lebanese army renders them fertile ground for extremist groups.

The issue was starkly brought to light in 2007 when the extremist group Fatah al-Islam fought fierce battles with the army at the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. The fighting killed some 400 people, including 168 soldiers, and left the camp in rubble.


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