Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ministerial delegation postpones visit to Ein Elhelweh

A Lebanese ministerial delegation was forced to postpone its visit to Ein Elhelweh refugee camp in southern Lebnon due to divisions among the Palestinian factions that excercise influence in the camps. These divisions highlight the lack of a single authority to speak in the name of Palestinians or to control the different factions.

The main problem was disagreements over who would represent the Palestinians in discussions with the Lebanese delegatoin, including differences within the PLO, and particularly among different factions within Fatah, the largest party within the PLO.

Other nationalist and Islamist factions include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the PFLP-General Command, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Liberation Front, Rangers, Fatah-Central Command, the Islamic Struggle Movement (not Hamas), the Ansar Group, and Ansar Allah.

There have recently been visits to other Palestinian camps in Lebnon, including Sabra and Chatilla in Beirut and Rashidiya and Shimali in Tyre, but the differences within Ein Elhelweh, the largest camp, and home to roughly 50,000 refugees, appear to be more severe. The political problems of Ein Elhelweh are something of a microcosom of differences in the West Bank and Gaza, and show how difficult it is for any Palestinian leader to control the situation.

In short, there is no one single Palestinian authority.

Returning to Lebanon, there was also strong disagreement over the role that Ahmed Jabril, head of the PFLP General Command played in earlier stages of the dialogue. Jabril is important because his group is one of the main Syrian supported factions and is responsible for many of the Palestinian weapons held outside of the refugee camps. This is the main crux of the Lebanese call for Palestinians to disarm, but other factions are upset at his taking such a prominent role in the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue.

The main concern is that the talks with Jabril and the link between Paletinian arms and Lebanese-Syrian relations would overshadow the many other serious issues that poison Lebanese-Palestinian relations, such as Lebanese restrictions on construction in the camps, restrictions on employment and property ownership on Palestinians, and other forms of discrimination that all Palestinians in Lebanon face.

An UNRWA report on conditions in the camps states the following:

They do not have social and civil rights, and have very limited access to the government's public health or educational facilities and no access to public social services. The majority rely entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health and relief and social services. Considered as foreigners, Palestine refugees are prohibited by law from working in more than 70 trades and professions. This has led to a very high rate of unemployment amongst the refugee population.

Click here for a Norweigian People's Aid report on conditions of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon.


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