The Israeli parliament gave its initial backing on Monday to a bill aimed at blocking the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory.
The bill, which requires an absolute majority of the 120-member parliament to authorize a return of refugees, was approved on first reading by 90 votes out of 120, with members of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's party voting in favor.
However, the bill must be approved in another two readings before becoming law.
The fate of some 3.7 million Palestinian refugees is one of the most difficult issues that have faced Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in efforts to bring an end to a half a century of conflict.
UN resolution 194 recognizes the right to return of those Palestinians wishing to "live in peace" or for them to be financially compensated.
Israel is opposed to a mass return of refugees because it fears this would lead to a bi-ethnic state.
During the failed Camp David peace talks in July, Barak spoke of the return of only tens of thousands of refugees, in all cases on the basis of family ties already existing in Israel -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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