Lebanese leaders meet with Abbas, discuss refugees
In the first public meeting yesterday between high level Palestinian and Lebanese leaders since the Lebanon War, interim Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) brought up the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and their problems with the Lebanese government. Abu Mazen said he expected the situation of the refugees to improve after the meeting, although he did not go into detail.
There are approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps in Lebanon. They have not been granted citizenship and face legal barriers to working and owning property.
Some Lebanese, recalling the role of Palestinian terrorists in the 1975-1990 civil war, view the refugees with hostility.
In Beirut's Chatila camp, refugees said they would wait to see what Abbas, who is running for the Palestinian presidency and is favored by Washington and Israel as a potential peacemaker, delivered before supporting him.
"What we want from him is to look after us and send us back home. If he can't do that, then we don't care," said Bilal Sabra, 28, working in a music shop in the camp.
"Look around you, just see the way we are living here with rats and garbage. Do you think they really care for us? I don't think so."
Arafat's fighters were a main faction in the Lebanese civil war, but most were forced out of Lebanon in 1982 after Israel besieged Beirut with the declared aim of ousting the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel halted the bombardment under a deal in which some 10,000 PLO fighters left Lebanon in UN-flagged ships, followed by Arafat. The PLO headquarters were relocated to Tunis.
Abu Mazen and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Queria said their meetings with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Beri and Prime Minister Omar Karami were successful, adding that more visits would follow. "We know the Lebanese are committed to the Palestinian cause, and they will do all they can to improve (conditions for refugees)," Abbas said after meeting Karami.
"Coordination and consultation are the main reason for this visit. What matters to us is that we put brothers in the picture of what is going on with us, and there is a lot going on. We also wanted to hear what is going on their side," the Palestinian officials said.
The Beirut meetings followed a trip to Syria, which dominates Lebanon politically and has also had a troubled relationship with the Palestinian leadership.
In both countries, Palestinian officials in the entourage said Abu Mazen proposed an Arab summit be held after Palestinian elections, scheduled for January 9. The officials said the purpose of the summit would be to put a pan-Arab stamp of approval on the elections, which Abu Mazen is expected to win.