BEIRUT (AP)- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday he will abide by any decision that the Lebanese government takes concerning the disarmament of Palestinians living across refugee camps in Lebanon. "We are guests in Lebanon, temporary guests, and we are subject to Lebanese laws just like everybody else in Lebanon," Abbas said after talks with President Emile Lahoud.
Abbas arrived in Beirut on Friday from neighboring Damascus where he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. In addition to the meeting with Lahoud, Abbas held talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati. He is also scheduled to meet with a Palestinian delegation from refugee camps in Lebanon.
During his visit to Lebanon Abbas is widely expected to discuss the issue of disarming Palestinians living in the country as demanded by U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls on Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to give up their weapons.
The resolution, issued last September, refers to the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrilla group, which continues to fight Israel in a small contested area near the south Lebanon border, and thousands of armed Palestinians living in 12 Palestinian camps across Lebanon. Hezbollah has refused to disarm and the Lebanese government, which considers the group to be a legitimate resistance group, supports its stance, saying disarmament hinges on an overall peace settlement with Israel.
Lebanon hosts more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees, including thousands of armed guerrillas from the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction, in densely populated camps around the country that are off limits to the Lebanese government. Authorities fear there would be bloodshed if they go into the camps, where many Islamic militant fugitives are known to be hiding.
The first refugees came to Lebanon after the 1948 war that saw the creation of Israel.
Their presence is a touchy subject and officials fear conspiracies to settle them in Lebanon, something that would upset the delicate balance among the country”s 17 sects. Palestinian officials have stressed Lebanese sovereignty and said Palestinians will not commit acts that threaten Lebanon”s security. But Abbas would likely to be heavily criticized back home for disarming them as it might be perceived as an introduction to permanently setting the Palestinians in Lebanon.
Abbas” predecessor, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was never willing or politically able to give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees in Arab countries.
Resolution 1559 also called for the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, which was completed in April.
However Abbas said he did not raise the matter with Lahoud. "Resolution 1559 concerns the Lebanese government and people, and we are with them in any decision they take concerning implementation of this resolution," he told reporters after their meeting.
Visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Elizabeth Dibble, reiterated the need for Palestinian groups to disarm, but said the Palestinian presence in Lebanon is a final status question. "I know that this issue is a very sensitive one here in Lebanon. The issue of final status has yet to be determined by Israel and the Palestinians, and this is all tied up with that," she told Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Abbas also thanked the Lebanese government for the recent easing of labor restrictions for Palestinians born in Lebanon. A decree issued last month by Lebanon”s labor minister relaxed rules denying Palestinian refugees living in the country since the creation of Israel the right to work in most jobs, allowing them to work in a range of private-sector jobs. "We are very grateful for the Lebanese government for this great brotherly measure," Abbas said.
Abbas said it was up to the Lebanese government to decide on an appropriate time for opening a Palestinian embassy in Beirut. Abbas promised Assad on Thursday that he would continue to coordinate future moves for establishing a peace settlement in the Middle East. He also met with leaders of Damascus-based radical Palestinian factions, including Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal, and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa in Damascus.