Beirut Warns Palestinians against Trading Refugees for East Jerusalem
Lebanon warned the Palestinian Authority on Monday against accepting a reported Israeli proposal to give up part of east Jerusalem in exchange for a Palestinian renunciation of refugees' right of return.
President Emile Lahoud called for an international campaign against the permanent implantation of Palestinian refugees in the country, and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said he summoned each of the accredited ambassadors in Lebanon.
"I summoned them ... to inform them of the Israeli proposal for returning parts of East Jerusalem and in return, the Palestinian Authority would give up the right to return," Hammoud told reporters.
"I asked them ... to relay Lebanon's position on this matter, considering that Lebanon calls for holding onto the right to return and rejects the idea of implantation, as mentioned in the introduction of the Lebanese constitution," he said.
Hammoud, at the end of more than six hours of meetings with the ambassadors, said Beirut authorities had received "information from sources, including Palestinian sources" about the Israeli proposal.
"But we also felt that for the sake of a just a comprehensive peace, we had to insist on the importance of this issue at the eve of the Washington meetings" between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he said.
Hammoud added: "It is the duty of the Arabs to unite and agree on refraining from giving up Palestinian rights, under any form and for any justifications or explanations that some could resort to."
Asked about any renewed Israeli threats to strike Lebanon and Syria, Hammoud said: "We don't have any information, but anyone who is wise will prepare himself for any circumstances or possibilities."
On Sunday, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud insisted that the refugees "must someday leave," hinting at suspicions that the Palestinian Authority had already struck a deal with Israel.
"According to our information, Israel is ready to make concessions on the issues of Jerusalem and settlements in exchange for the Palestinian side accepting to delay an examination of the refugee issue and their right of return," Lahoud said in a statement.
Lahoud also denounced recent statements made by the Palestinian representative to the Arab League, who has said that refugees could be given a choice between the right of return and compensation.
Lebanon hosts some 350,000 Palestinian refugees, nearly half of whom live in squalid conditions in a dozen camps around the country.
The bulk of the Palestinians either fled or were driven out when the Jewish state was created in 1948 or are descendants of those refugees.
Beirut fears that their permanent residence in the country will upset Lebanon's already delicate religious balance -- BEIRUT (AFP)
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