Lebanon Leaders Look to Resist Settlement of Palestinians
Lebanon's higher defense council, the country's top political body, met Wednesday for the first time since 1993, sending a message to the Palestinian Authority that it will stand against any compromises on Palestinian refugees' right of return with Israel.
Convened by Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, the council debated ways to foil Israel's feared bid to trade sovereignty over East Jerusalem's holy sites for the right of return of 3.7 million Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon counts 367,000 refugees from land lost to Israel since 1948 within its borders, and refuses to grant them citizenship.
Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Tamir, speaking on Israeli public radio Tuesday, suggested Israel would trade sovereignty over the al-Aqsa mosque compound for concessions on the refugee issue.
"What is vital for us is to obtain the most important thing, the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of return of refugees to territory under Israeli sovereignty," Tamir said.
The al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, was built on the spot formerly occupied by the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, which is the holiest place in Judaism.
On Sunday, Lahoud insisted that Lebanon's refugees "must someday leave", warning strongly against any concessions.
The defense council, created in 1984, also examined an incident Monday where Israeli military fired upon Lebanese territory from Shebaa Farms, the land disputed by Lebanon and Israel since the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in May.
The council also reviewed the matter of Lebanon's missing citizens from its 1975-1990 civil war. The government had agreed to reopen its files on the missing after last week's release of 54 mostly Lebanese prisoners from Syria, which failed to stifle a public outcry about the fate of the disappeared.
The council met at Lahoud's request with the backing of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, his cabinet and the military.
Immediately after the meeting, the cabinet assembled to discuss how to put into effect the decisions of the defense council, which were not revealed.
It was only the second meeting of the higher defense council since it was set up in 1984 -- BEIRUT (AFP)
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