BEIRUT: The elimination of the often-criticized permit system at the entrances to Nahr al-Bared refugee camp was announced Wednesday by the new president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee.
The recently appointed president, Khaldoun Sharif, announced the decision Wednesday at a news conference at the Grand Serail, along with a slate of other measures aimed at improving Lebanese-Palestinian relations, which have been strained recently.
“It remains the Army’s role to function around the camp when needed, similar to other areas of Lebanon,” Sharif said about the end of the permit system.
The restrictive security around Nahr al-Bared has been criticized by residents and pro-Palestinian activists for making entering and exiting extremely difficult, as well as preventing basic building supplies from reaching the camp.
Sharif said he would work to speed up camp reconstruction and returning people to their homes.
Nahr al-Bared was destroyed in 2007, when the Lebanese Army tried to eliminate a radical Islamist militia that had set up inside the camp. Most of the neighborhoods were destroyed.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency is rebuilding the camp, but it is years away from completion.
Sharif also announced the creation of a ministerial Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee with representatives from the country’s ministries, as well as the formation of a Palestinian technical council to advise government on the demographic and geographic aspects of the camps.
Finally, Sharif established a security committee that is to include officials from the Palestinian Authority as well as Palestinian factions in Lebanon.
The Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee has advocated maintaining calm in the country’s camps after recent shootings and clashes with soldiers strained relations between residents and the Army.
Sessions of National Dialogue have reaffirmed the need to disarm Palestinian factions outside the camps.
Sharif said that conditions for refugees must be improved and trust built while these steps are undertaken.
“The conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps, especially Nahr al-Bared, have been unacceptable and it’s our responsibility to address this problem and build the necessary confidence on the remaining topics such as weapons,” he said.
But Sharif also said that the initiative for disarming will remain with the Lebanese government.
“The decision to remove weapons outside the camps was made by the Lebanese government and the implementation of these issues is of governmental concern,” Sharif said.
As the new head of the dialogue committee, Sharif also outlined his broad plans for leading the body in the future.
He said there would be three basic pillars on which he would base his work: improving living conditions; political and security work with the Palestinian parties; and creating legislation that improves life for camp residents and their relations with Lebanese.
“Our work has begun, and the only way to succeed is with confidence and a shared sense of responsibility,” Sharif said.