Lebanon News

Abbas receives leading Christian politicians’ endorsement

Samir Geagea arrives for a discussion with Abbas. (Photo by Aldo Ayoub)

BEIRUT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday met with the leaders of the Kataeb (Phalange) and Lebanese Forces parties, both of whom confirmed support for an independent Palestinian state.

On the second day of his visit to Lebanon, Abbas met with Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel at his residence at Habtour Hotel in Sin al-Fil.

Gemayel called for Lebanese-Palestinian cooperation through the formation of a Lebanese-Palestinian committee to tackle divisive issues between the two sides.

“We are fully committed to the Palestinian Authority’s goals at this critical time because it achieves steps to boost the Palestinian cause with the aim of establishing a sovereign state on its territory. This is a Lebanese demand that has the support of all the parties,” Gemayel said in a statement after the meeting.

Abbas also met with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who said that it was natural for Lebanon to serve as the “godfather” of the Palestinians at the U.N. Security Council when they press their plan for statehood.

Geagea underscored the importance of the PA and all the Lebanese parties to uphold the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. “This is an important point. It is essential to keep the right of return a major demand,” Geagea said.

Abbas arrived in Beirut Tuesday on a two-day visit to seek support for the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership in September, which will come as Lebanon serves as head of the Security Council.

The visit was part of Abbas’ recent Arab and European tour aimed at rallying support for the bid to seek U.N. membership for a state on the lines that existed before the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated Lebanon’s support for a Palestinian bid to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, a day after President Michel Sleiman promised similar support, during a meeting with Abbas at the Grand Serail earlier Wednesday.

Mikati said Abbas’ visit held special significance as it coincided with two important events: The hoisting of the Palestinian flag at the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut and preparations to accept Palestine as a member in the U.N. General Assembly.

“In both events, Lebanon stands on the side of Palestine and shows solidarity with the Palestinian people as it has always done, either through enhancing the Lebanese-Palestinian relations to an embassy level, or through Lebanon’s support for Palestine’s entry into the U.N. General Assembly, especially from Lebanon’s position as president of the Security Council in September and also Qatar’s presidency of the General Assembly,” Mikati said.

He said Palestine’s admission into the General Assembly as a full member will help boost the Palestinian role to continue the struggle with a view to achieving the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

“We hope that this step [U.N. recognition] will be an occasion to awaken the world conscience from its deep slumber toward this just cause which has been ignored for decades,” Mikati said.

Mikati said his government will do its best, within the available resources, to improve the social and economic conditions of Palestinians living in Lebanon. Discussions touched on the living conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon and the rebuilding of the Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli, including the need to intensify joint efforts to secure necessary funds for the reconstruction.

Thanking Mikati and the Lebanese government for their support, Abbas said: “We are going together to the United Nations. We are seeking with the support of Lebanon and the Arab community to gain the United Nations recognition of the state of Palestine and win full membership of the U.N. organization.”

Abbas reiterated his rejection of resettlement of Palestinians in Lebanon. “The Palestinians in Lebanon do not need arms, neither inside nor outside the camps, because they are under the protection of Lebanese legitimate authority,” Abbas said.

He added that it is up to the Lebanese state to tackle the issue of arms inside the camps. “We respect [the Lebanese state’s] laws and sovereignty.”

There are an estimated 350,000 Palestinians in Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps. The camps are off limits to Lebanese authorities. The Lebanese Army is deployed at the entrances of the camps, but it does not enter them.

Later, Mikati and Abbas left for the neighborhood of Jnah, south of Beirut, where Abbas officially opened the Palestinian Embassy by raising the Palestinian flag during a ceremony attended by officials from both sides.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 18, 2011, on page 3.




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