Saturday, August 30, 2008
Between the Lines: Abu Mazen Brings Up His Own Can of Worms
By Nafez Qawas
Daily Star correspondent
Saturday, August 30, 2008
BEIRUT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas concluded his two-day trip to Beirut on Friday by holding talks with an array of Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab figures.
Abbas met former President Amine Gemayel at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Sin al-Fil to discuss issues related to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
"President Abbas and we agree that it is imperative to introduce drastic improvements to the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and we also agree on rejecting the settlement of Palestinians," Gemayel told reporters.
Gemayel dubbed Abbas' trip to Beirut as "historic," adding that he hoped the visit would strengthen relations between the two countries and help lead "to a comprehensive solution in Palestine and Lebanon."
"We are fighting a battle together for common peace and stability in the region," he said.
Gemayel added that Abbas stressed that the Palestinian Authority will "endorse and support all the decisions made by the Lebanese government."
Talking to reporters on Thursday, Abbas said Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should not be permanently resettled in the country and should abide by their host country's rules.
"The Palestinians have the right of return and this is an issue we are discussing with the Israelis," Abbas told a media conference after the meeting.
"We are against the resettlement of Palestinians in Lebanon," he added.
An estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in 12 camps in Lebanon. Most of Palestinian refugees came to Lebanon when the state of Israel was created in 1948. There are fears among the Lebanese that their permanent settlement would shift the country's sectarian balance.
Abbas also said he endorsed the Lebanese government's 2006 decision that Palestinian factions outside of the camps should be disarmed.
The Palestinian camps in Lebanon are considered to be unstable, with security incidents taking place frequently.
Last year the army fought a deadly 15-week battle against Al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam militant group in the Northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. More than 400 people, including 168 soldiers, were killed in the fighting which left the camp almost entirely destroyed.
On Friday, Abbas also met with a delegation of Arab Ambassadors operating in Beirut, Palestinian Liberation Organization officials in Lebanon, as well as a delegation from the pro-opposition National Christian Gathering, and the head of the Palestinian-Lebanese Dialogue committee Ambassador Khalil Makkawi.
Abbas also made phone calls to Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Roman Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, and vice president of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan.
Following his meeting with Abbas, UAE Ambassador Ahmad Sultan al-Soueidi said that the settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon was "extensively" discussed during the talks.
"No Palestinian accepts to settle in a land other than theirs" Soueidi told reporters. He added that discussions also focused on the issue of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon.
"Our fellow Palestinian refugees are guests in Lebanon and should abide by Lebanese rules and regulations," the ambassador said.
Asked whether Arab sates were willing to contribute to the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared, Soueidi said that the matter was not discussed with Abbas, "but we are following up on the issue with the Lebanese government and NGOs.