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Lebanese, Palestinian Officials Condemn Militants in Refugee Camps

Lebanese and Palestinian officials meeting in Paris this week have jointly condemned the movement of weapons and militants in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. It's unclear what impact, if any, such statements will have in prompting armed Palestinians to give up their weapons.

The issue of armed Palestinians operating around refugee camps in Lebanon has been of growing international concern. Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon after the 1948 war, which created the state of Israel. Today, the 350,000 Palestinians who live in these camps face an uncertain future.

During his first official meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, in Paris, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said these Palestinian refugees were guests of Lebanon and must abide by the country's laws. Both he and Mr. Saniora expressed concern that the weapons and militants moving in and out of the camps might hurt Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.

Just who will listen to these officials is another matter. Charles Saint Prot is a Middle East expert in Paris, and author of several books on the region. Mr. Saint Prot notes that the clout of the Palestinian Authority has been steadily eroding, both inside and outside the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Saint Prot said the question is what authority the Palestinian Authority has over Palestinian refugees in Lebanon? He said he doesn't think it's much, because the problem of these refugees isn't really taken into consideration by Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Saint Prot says Palestinian refugees and members of militant groups may want to keep their weapons as a form of collateral, to give them more security amidst their own uncertain status. Nothing will fundamentally change, he says, unless future peace negotiations take the status of these refugees into account.

Syria, which pulled its troops from Lebanon in April, is another factor. The pullout has reportedly prompted some armed Palestinian factions to begin negotiating with the Lebanese about partially disarming. But some fear Syria may also use Palestinian factions to stir up trouble in Lebanon.