Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians in Lebanon Warn against Arafat Expulsion ; Refugee Leaders Are Holding Almost Daily Demonstrations in Lebanon's 12 Camps

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians in Lebanon Warn against Arafat Expulsion ; Refugee Leaders Are Holding Almost Daily Demonstrations in Lebanon's 12 Camps

Article excerpt

It took Hassan Issa four days to walk from his home in Hittin on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to Palestine's border with Lebanon. Within weeks, he was living in a tent two miles from the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon in a lush landscape of banana groves and orange trees known as Ain al-Hilweh, Arabic for the Spring of Sweet Water.

That was 1948. Fifty-five years later, Mr. Issa still lives in Ain al-Hilweh, though today there is little that can be described as "sweet" about the camp's filthy, cramped passageways and spirit- crushing mood of despair and futility.

With Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the verge of being deported, the road map in tatters, and a war of attack and retaliation between Israel and militant Palestinian groups showing no sign of abating, many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon see scant hope for better lives in the near term.

"We refugees are treated unfairly by everyone," Issa says. "The world sits back and watches Israel killing our people in Palestine while the refugees have been forgotten completely."

Four years ago, the Israelis and Palestinians were negotiatingthe thorny problem of who controls Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, and the refugees. But negotiations foundered at the Camp David summit in August 2000 and a month later the second Palestinian intifada began.

Sultan Abul-Aynayn, head of Mr Arafat's Fatah faction in Lebanon, says the future of the refugees is not even on the agenda now.

"The refugees are not a priority for Palestinians," he says. "We have to solve the bloodshed in Palestine before we can deal with the refugee question."

Demonstrations in support of Mr. Arafat have been held almost daily in some of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps since Israel announced last week its decision to expel the Palestinian leader.

Mr. Abul-Aynayn has joined the chorus of condemnation directed at Israel, but like many Palestinians, maintains Arafat won't be expelled because of the potential repercussions. "It would be a very risky adventure for the Israelis. The Palestinians would completely break free of all restraints. The situation would become much worse and involve all Palestinians - including us in Lebanon," he says.

Meanwhile, Issa and the other estimated 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue struggling to exist in an unforgiving political environment. The refugees are confined to their camps, some ringed by Army troops, and banned from all but the most menial jobs.

The refugee status here is largely due to Lebanon's bitter sectarian divisions. The Christian community here has always feared that settling the predominantly Sunni Muslim Palestinians permanently in Lebanon would undermine the state's delicate political balance. …

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