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Abbas: no to settlement of refugees in Lebanon
Mideast Lebanon Pal 5447161
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, speaks with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008. Abbas said he rejects the permanent resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. He added that refugees should have the right to return to their homes. - photo by Associated Press
    BEIRUT, Lebanon — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday rejected the idea that Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon might be forced to stay there permanently, saying they should have the right to return home.
    About 400,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in a dozen refugee camps in Lebanon, which were set up for those who fled or were pushed out during fighting around Israel’s creation in 1948.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said this week that the ‘‘right of return’’ is incompatible with the creation of a Palestinian state.
    On a visit to Beirut, Abbas said, ‘‘The refugees should have the right of return to their homeland and we are negotiating this with the Israelis. I have to say we are not with permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
    ‘‘We are against permanent resettlement,’’ Abbas told reporters after meeting Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Abbas later met with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
    Israel has refused to accept the return of refugees, believing that they should be resettled in a future Palestinian state or the places where they now live. Israel has also offered compensation.
    The fate of millions of Palestinian refugees is one of the most difficult issues in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
    Many Lebanese oppose the permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in their country, fearing they would tip its delicate sectarian balance.
    Abbas also discussed the delicate issue of how to handle armed groups in the camps. The Lebanese military is supposed to stay out of the camps under a 1969 agreement that allows the Palestinians to run them.
    But last year, the Lebanese army entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared near the northern city of Tripoli to crush an al-Qaida-inspired group that had set up a base there.
    Abbas hinted in an interview with Al-Arabiya television that he supported the Lebanese government taking charge of security inside Palestinian refugee camps.
    ‘‘The camps in Lebanon are part of the Lebanese territories and part of the Lebanese government’s responsibility, regarding security and non-security matters,’’ Abbas said. ‘‘We are ready to cooperate by all means because we do not see ourselves as being in charge of security inside the camps.’’