Friday, July 16, 2010

Lebanese parliament indecisive on issue of granting rights to Palestinian refugees

The Palestinian camp Ain al-Helweh near Saida (Sidon)

Lebanon's parliament on Thursday postponed to 17 August talks on the controversial issue of granting the Palestinian refugees in the country the right employment, social security, medical care, and ownership of property.
A deep divide over the motion has emerged between Christians and Muslims in the 128-strong parliament, which is equally split between the two confessions. Christian parliamentarians -although on other issues often deepjy divided - are unanimous in their refusal to grant Palestinians property rights, fearing the move would lead to permanent settlement and giving the mainly Sunni Muslim refugees full-fledged citizenship. Palestinians have consistently said they refuse Lebanese citizenship. Members of Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri's ruling bloc have stepped up talks with their Christian Maronite allies on an alternate proposal, which will likely not include a clause on property, in a bid to come to an agreement.
Christian MPs have also lashed out at the cash-strapped UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), accusing it of trying to shift its responsibilities to the shoulders of the Lebanese state. "UNRWA's budget is shrinking and it is failing to meet its responsibilities and placing them on Lebanon," MP Sami Gemayel of the Maronite Kataeb (Phalange) party said before going into the meeting. "That is dangerous because if the international community is no longer responsible for this matter and is trying to throw all responsibility on Lebanon, we have begun to move step by step towards naturalisation."
Lebanon houses close to half a million Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA, who live in a dozen impoverished camps across the country. Lebanese officials have said no more than 300,000 refugees actually reside in Lebanon.

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