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The Palestinian Authority is planning to move thousands of PLO fighters from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip after the disengagement, senior PA officials disclosed on Saturday.

The Lebanese government is desperate to get rid of the Palestinian refugees living there and has imposed severe restrictions on their movements in a bid to force them out of the country. The Lebanese authorities have accused the Palestinians of turning their camps into safe havens for various armed militias that are threatening Lebanon's national security.

Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah central committee, arrived in Beirut last week for talks with Lebanese and Palestinian officials, to discuss bringing the fighters together with thousands of refugees, to the Gaza Strip shortly after Israel evacuates the area, the
officials said.

Zaki, who is in charge of the Lebanon portfolio in the PA, met with representatives of the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and discussed with them plans to move PLO fighters to the Gaza Strip. Tensions have been mounting lately between the Lebanese authorities and the Palestinians in Lebanon amid allegations that Palestinian militants were involved in an assassination attempt on the Lebanese Defense Minister. Several Lebanese politicians have demanded that the Palestinian refugees, who live in autonomous camps,
surrender their weapons to the Lebanese army. "Any Palestinian can move to the Gaza Strip after its liberation," a PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. "Israel has no right to object to such a move." Zaki was quoted in Beirut as saying that the PA was planning to move PLO fighters to the Gaza Strip not only from Lebanon, but from other Arab countries as well. The PLO has forces in both Jordan and Syria. The Palestinian Authority is seeking the help of the PLO fighters in securing its international borders," Zaki said. Speaking during a news conference at Beirut's Le Meridien Hotel on Friday, Zaki insisted that the Palestinians living in Lebanon had priority in returning to the Gaza Strip before any other refugees. Asked if the PA was planning to transfer PLO fighters to Gaza after the disengagement, Zaki said, "Once we control Gaza we will open our borders."

According to Zaki, former PA chairman Yasser Arafat had repeatedly called for the return of the Lebanon-based refugees to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, "because their living conditions are the worst."

Zaki, who also held talks in Lebanon with Hizbullah leaders, said the PLO fighters were needed to defend the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and Israel. He also rejected demands by Lebanese political parties to disarm the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. "Their weapons are essential to the refugees' protection," he said. "If the Israeli army or any enemy of Lebanon invades the camps, Palestinians will retaliate," Zaki said. "Lebanon does not possess heavy arms to defend itself against any Israeli breaches. The
national resistance is the only force capable of defending Lebanon against Israel and forcing it to withdraw." Zaki, who delivered a message from PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, said he also discussed with government officials the reopening of a PLO embassy in Beirut. "We filed a request to establish an authority
representing the Palestinian Diaspora - either a bureau of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or a Palestinian embassy," he said. Lahoud stressed, following the meeting with Zaki, that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their homeland and have a country of their own. "The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot produce a fair and comprehensive solution if the legitimate rights of Palestinians are not guaranteed," Lahoud said. "Lebanon is against accommodating Palestinian refugees in other Arab countries while insisting that they must have the right to return to their homeland," he added.

Source: KHALED ABU TOAMEH- 14/08/2005
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