SIDON, Lebanon: Jubilant Palestinians in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps celebrated the United Nations’ vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state Friday, as many expressed hope that that the move would bring them closer to returning to their homeland.
In Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp, hundreds of eager Palestinians took to the streets in celebration, waving Palestinian flags after more than a two-thirds majority of the U.N. General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status at the U.N.
Many residents watched Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech Thursday, as well and the 193-member body’s voting process.
An overwhelming majority of 138 countries voted in favor, with nine countries voting against and 41 abstaining.
“This is a historic day in the lives of the Palestinian people and everyone was waiting for this sacred day,” said Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab, the head of the Palestinian National Security Forces in Lebanon.
“As you can see, all the camps are celebrating now, we are celebrating with our people in Ramallah, Gaza, Jerusalem and all the occupied territories,” Abu Arab told The Daily Star.
“Everyone stands with the president, we all support president Mahmoud Abbas and this big step that the Palestinians were waiting for,” said Abu Arab, a Fatah member, as rounds of celebratory gunfire were shot into the air.
Men, women and children chanted slogans in support of Palestine and Abbas as nationalist songs blasted from loud speakers.
A member of the Palestinian Follow-Up Committee for Ain al-Hilweh, Fouad Osman, said that the world will always remember Nov. 29 as the day the Palestinians achieved a diplomatic victory over Israeli occupation.
“On this day we reiterate that the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homeland is a fix right based on [U.N. General Assembly] Resolution 194 ... There is no way we will back down from this right,” Osman said.
Maher Shabayteh, a Fatah official in the camp said the Palestinian people’s dreams are now coming true. “We won in the military battle [in Gaza] and today we won in the diplomatic battle headed by Abu Mazen,” he said.
Shabayteh added that the U.N.’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member state is a step toward the establishment of a full Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
“A full Palestinian state will achieve the dreams of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes,” Shabayteh continued.
In Beirut’s Mar Elias camp, Palestinians cheered for the long-sought diplomatic triumph, but said that the step would remain incomplete if they are unable to return to their homeland.
But some refugees criticized the Palestinian leadership for compromising on territories occupied by Israel before 1967.
“What does Abbas think of the lands occupied between 1948 and 1967? Aren’t they Palestinian lands?” a Palestinian man told a local television channel from Mar Elias.
In the northern Beddawi camp, overnight celebrations continued well into Friday evening as celebratory gunfire and Palestinian songs were heard in the area.