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Palestinian President  Visits Lebanon


Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is meeting with top Lebanese officials, on a two-day visit, expected to include discussions over the future of the large Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon, and the armed presence of different Palestinian factions on Lebanese soil. Edward Yeranian has more for VOA from Beirut.

The red carpet was out, and an official honor guard stood at attention, as President Michel Sulayman embraced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Beirut Airport.

Mr. Abbas met at length with President Sulayman at the Presidential Palace, insisting, afterwards, that he would like to express support for Lebanon's new-found political stability, following the Doha Agreement to form a national unity government in May.

The Palestinian president took great pains to thank Lebanon for what he called the "many sacrifices" it has made for the Palestinian cause, over the years, as well as his sympathy for all the "suffering" that Lebanon has endured.

Responding to a reporter's question about the armed presence of various Palestinian factions in Lebanon, Abbas insisted all Palestinians must respect Lebanon's sovereignty.

He says that his position on Palestinian arms inside Lebanon is that we agree with the Lebanese government completely. Palestinians are present in Lebanon under the law, and not above the law.

Lebanese political leaders have complained over the years that armed Palestinian factions, present in 12 refugee camps scattered across the country, have ignored the law and created pockets of instability.

The Lebanese Army lost more than 100 soldiers last summer, during a bitter and bloody fight with Fatah-al-Islam Palestinian extremists, holed up in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp, outside the port city of Tripoli. The camp was almost totally destroyed during the fighting, and its residents were forced to find refuge, elsewhere.

Former residents of Nahr al Bared continue to live in often squalid temporary quarters, despite official pledges to rebuild the camp.

President Abbas also indicated that his government's official position was that all Palestinian refugees must eventually return to Palestine, and not be settled in Lebanon permanently.

"Palestinian refugees," he said " must have the right to return to their homeland, and we are discussing the issue with Israel and I want to insist on the fact that we are opposed to the implantation of Palestinians in Lebanon."

Souheil Natour, a top leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which belongs to President Abbas' Fatah group, says that Mr. Abbas must stand up for the rights of Palestinian refugees, inside Lebanon, since they are often treated badly.

"One of the aims of the Palestinians is to guarantee the human rights for the Palestinian community in Lebanon, which are negated by all the Lebanese laws," Abbas said. "Until now, we are discriminated against, and I think the suffering of the Palestinians must be ended.
On the other hand, there are a lot of political issues who are not solved between the Palestinians and the Lebanese. One of them is the arms, and I think the Lebanese have their file and the Palestinians have their file. So, positively I hope they will discuss the matters with much more mature experience of the last decades."

The United Nations estimates 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon. Most fled to Lebanon in 1947 during what Israel calls its "war of independence," and what Palestinians refer to as their "nukhba" national disaster.


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