The European Union, through its “EU Scholarship Fund for Palestine Refugees in Lebanon” project, has donated € 1.1 million towards scholarships for 54 Palestine refugee students starting October 2005 and continuing until their graduation.

These scholarships will give qualified Palestine refugee students the opportunity to pursue higher education at universities in Lebanon, thereby enhancing their chances of finding employment.

UNRWA received 299 applications, of which 193 were eligible. The top 54 students who met the criteria will now be able to pursue degree programs at Lebanese University, Arab
University, Hawai University and Lebanese International University.

The scholarships were granted in a range of programs, including engineering, graphic design, biology, sciences, business administration, accounting, and nursing. All scholarships cover the university tuition fees in full, as well as other education-related expenditures.

The European Union is UNRWA’s leading donor and has a long history of supporting
UNRWA through its regular budget, emergency appeals and special projects. In addition to the €1.1 million granted for scholarships, the EU has contributed approximately €4 million under a project entitled “Improvement of employability of young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon” to UNRWA Lebanon and five NGOs to improve the quality of vocational training over a period of three years.

During the academic year 2005-2006, the Agency has sponsored 31 additional scholarships funded by other sources. These sources include the IDRC, in the amount of $500,000 for 24 scholarships, and Japan, with $100,000 for 7 scholarships. These scholarships are earmarked for female students. All in all, the Education Programme in Lebanon is currently administering five scholarship programmes, sponsoring 236 Palestine refugee students.


Hamas followers in southern Lebanon gathered Saturday to hail the Islamist group's parliamentary win in the Palestinian legislative elections, looking to it to pave the way for millions of refugees to return to their homeland.
"This victory will allow us to work for the return of some four million Palestinian refugees dispersed around the world to come back to their homeland," said Ali Barakeh, Hamas spokesman in southern Lebanon.

The camp of Rashidiyeh east of the southern port city of Tyre was full of green Hamas flags and pictures of late Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi, killed by Israeli air strikes in 2004.

Despite heavy rain, Hamas followers were out on the streets celebrating their party's victory. Flag-covered convoys toured, with supporters chanting Moslem hymns and praising the "armed resistance" of the group.

The mainstream Fatah movement won just 43 seats in Wednesday's elections compared to the 76 of Hamas.
"Hamas's victory is a beam of light on the path to our return to Palestine," read one banner inside the camp. Hamas's supporters in the Rashidiyeh camp continued for the third day to distribute sweets to anyone entering their camp.

Around 367,000 Palestinian refugees are living in 12 camps across Lebanon.

The Beirut government has ruled out settling Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, because most are Sunni Moslems, and this might destabilize the country's already fragile confessional system. dpa wh sc


Amman - Three weeks after they fled violence in Iraq, about 130 Palestinian refugees, including at least 50 children, are still stranded in the no-man's-land between Iraq and Jordan with no light at the end of the tunnel.

A controversy is building up between Jordan and international human rights groups, including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), on to what extent the Amman government is under obligation to allow Palestinian refugees to move to the Ruweished refugee camp, about 60 kilometres west of the border.

The issue threatened to blow up if the increasingly deteriorating security situation in Iraq forces more of the 34,000-strong Palestinian community there to desert their homes for safety.

The Palestinian ambassador in Jordan Atallah Khairy on Tuesday held the United States responsible for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, who are reportedly living in the desert without adequate water, food or shelter.

'The US troops are responsible for maintaining security inside Iraq and consequently for the safety of Palestinians living there,' Khairy told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

He said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had asked the United States 'directly and through Arab sides either to ensure protection for Palestinians inside Iraq or to find a safe place for them to live in.'

'The best place for them, of course, will be their homeland, Palestine, and we hope Washington will convince Israel to allow the stranded Palestinians to return to their original homes,' he added.

Some of the stranded refugees have told local newspapers that Palestinians in Iraq had received recurrent death threats by unknown armed groups in a bid to force them to leave.

Reports from Baghdad said that the crackdown on Palestinians escalated after the February 22 blast at the town of Samarra that destroyed two Shiite shrines.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Jordan to allow the Palestinian refugees into the country.

The call drew stern reaction from the Jordanian government which accused the HRW of 'interfering in the sovereign and political rights of every sovereign state'.

'It is unfair to expect Jordan to have an open door policy,' the government's official spokesman Nasser Judeh told reporters on Monday.

'Iraq is surrounded by five countries. I find it very strange that the emphasis is on Jordan to open up its border to anybody and everybody,' he added.

The Jordanian official suggested that the HRW take up this refugee issue with the Iraqi authorities, who he said were 'ultimately responsible for their protection and for their safety and their well-being'.

Other world organizations including the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said they were providing refugees with some help to enable them
meet their daily needs.

Khairy said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had sent a message to his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani asking him to ensure protection for the Palestinian community in Iraq.

He regretted that Palestinians there were accused by their assailants of being 'Saddamites', a reference to their alleged backing to the ousted President Saddam Hussein.

The former regime reportedly provided Palestinians with certain privileges including free housing, medication and education.

'Many of you were Saddamites, then why you direct such accusations against Palestinians,' Khairy said.

He expected the Iranian government to step in to use its influence to put an end to the persecution of Palestinians which is widely believed to be carried out mainly by Shiite gangs.

'We hope that Iran, which has extended support to the Hamas-led government, will not spare any effort to help Palestinians in Iraq,' the Palestinian diplomat said.

UNHCR has warned against a mass exodus of Palestinians from Iraq if pressure continues on them to leave. 'Frankly speaking, I don't rule out this eventuality,' Khairy said.


Six guards from the Hamas Executive Force stood before the shopping crowds in Palestine Square. The men, who are what passes for a police force in Gaza, were dressed in black and armed with Kalashnikovs and wooden batons.

In the pick-up truck behind them was an unhappy man arrested for carrying a knife. Ahead was their next target: dozens of cigarette sellers hawking under the flimsy shade of a few trees.

Although it was not the most pressing security concern in the overcrowded Gaza Strip, it was still a mission that Munir Mohasin, 21, the thin, young patrol commander, took seriously. He said: "We want this place cleaned up. It's not legal for them to stop and sell here. We've had complaints from the shopkeepers and we had complaints that some of them are being rude to women. Some are selling drugs."

His patrol then descended on the hawkers, shouting and shoving until they had confiscated several large boxes of cigarettes and loaded them into their pick-up. Two sellers were arrested; others escaped with a public telling-off.

The sellers, all struggling to make a living, argued back. "There's nowhere else for us to go," Khader Abu Amjad shouted at Mr Mohasin. "Are we just going to play cat and mouse all day?"

After several minutes in the midday heat and more shouting, the Executive Force moved on and the hawkers went back to selling their cigarettes. Later, back at his local station, Mr Mohasin said: "We're not just stopping people selling in the street; we're working for the security of our country."

This has been the message from the Islamist Hamas movement since it seized full control of security in the Gaza Strip two months ago, the culmination of a six-month near-civil war with its rival, Fatah. Palestinians welcomed the return to safety on the streets and the chance to leave their homes without fear, a point Hamas is keen to highlight.

The Hamas-led government was promptly sacked and has now been further isolated by Israel, the west, and Fatah leaders in the occupied West Bank. Now there is growing concern about steps taken by Hamas in recent weeks that appear to go well beyond maintaining order and suggest that it is trying to extend its authority.

Two weeks ago Hamas took off air The Red Line, a weekly political chatshow that has been hosted for the past decade by Hassan al-Kashef. Although a secular leftist and a former head of the Palestinian Authority's information ministry, Mr Kashef, 63, had hosted several Hamas leaders on his show in the past year, including Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister, and, by satellite link from Damascus, Khaled Meshal, Hamas's leader in exile.

Recently he broadcast a show about Gaza's economic woes and began by saying what he thought of Hamas. "I was clear that I am with one law, one authority, one legitimate government and that I am against the coup," he said. A few days later, an unsigned letter was received from the Hamas information ministry ordering the TV station not to broadcast The Red Line again. It has been off air ever since. "Hamas made a military coup and now it is making a political coup. But they don't have political experience," said Mr Kashef. "There isn't just one voice in Gaza."

Last month Hamas organised a tour for foreign journalists, a rare foray into public relations to show off what it called "the new face of Gaza: safe, clean and green". But the same day the Executive Force detained several media distributors bringing in Palestinian newspapers from the West Bank. Sami al-Qishawi, director of Gaza's Al-Ayyam newspaper, said the guards were angry over a report of a press conference in Gaza City by a Hamas opponent.
"It is a dangerous sign of control, of trying to have just one voice, of restricting our freedom," said Mr Qishawi. He said although his paper was close to Fatah it was independently financed and had not been alone in reporting the press conference. "We can't just report statistics and the number of people killed," he said. "To make any progress in solving our problems we need to talk about important issues, about freedoms."

A week earlier, a group of armed men, some in masks, others in police uniforms, broke into the office of a Fatah MP in Rafah, southern Gaza. Ashraf Jumaa, one of only a handful of Fatah politicians who has stayed in Gaza, was beaten on the head with a rifle butt and an aide was shot in the leg in what appeared to be a warning. Mr Jumaa insists some of the attackers were members of the Hamas militia, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades.

"We're in a very bad situation now," said Mr Jumaa. "Hamas says it wants to talk to Fatah but they have to prepare the ground for negotiations, not just say they want it."

Other incidents underscore the continued volatility of factional rivalry here. Several Fatah security officials have been killed this month. Last week, the director of Gaza's main Shifa hospital was sacked and another senior doctor was sacked and arrested, apparently because they refused to take orders from Hamas ministries. On Saturday, 15 Fatah figures were arrested by Hamas men after clashes at a wedding where the guests sang Fatah songs. On Monday Hamas guards fired into the air to disperse a Fatah rally in the city and imposed restrictions on public rallies. Gazans are debating whether these incidents have been ordered by Hamas leaders or local commanders acting independently.

Hamas is trying to exert its authority in a complex, politicised climate. The appointed government in the West Bank has told police and lawyers in Gaza to stay away from work or risk losing their salaries. As a result, courts are not working and Hamas is policing with its 6,000-strong Executive Force, a year-old paramilitary group which the West Bank government declared illegal. One prominent Palestinian businessman described it as "order without law".

There is also an economic crisis and a collapse of private businesses unable to import or export goods since Israel closed Gaza's crossings to all but humanitarian aid after Hamas took over. In the West Bank, Hamas politicians have been harassed and arrested.

Hamas says it is just trying to impose order in an increasingly chaotic Gaza. "People feel for the first time there is a full degree of freedom," said Ahmed Yusuf, an adviser to the former premier Mr Haniyeh. "There is a new look here in Gaza ... There is really a state of law."

He downplayed recent incidents. There had been political problems with Palestine TV, which broadcast Mr Kashef's chatshow and is close to Fatah, he said. On the arrest of the newspaper distributors, he blamed an overzealous local commander. He insisted Hamas was not involved in the attack on Mr Jumaa, the Fatah MP.

"We are not building an Islamic state in Gaza or anything that would be a separate entity," Mr Yusuf said. Apart from security, the public goal of Hamas now is to return to an agreement with Fatah and secure the elusive reform of the many Palestinian security forces. Although there is little sign of any rapprochement, he said secret talks were under way. "We want to bring them [Fatah] to the table to see how we salvage the problem."

The Guardian


Palestinian sources revealed on Tuesday that the UNRWA has made a decision to reduce food rations distributed every three months to the refugees. The decision aims at paving the way, the sources added, for the complete cancellation of all food rations within the next two years.

According to the sources, the UNRWA director in Lebanon, Richard Cook, recently issued a decision stipulating a 55-percent reduction in food rations. They added that flour, which had formerly been supplied alongside other foods, will no longer be distributed.

Food rations have been distributed to Palestinian refugees since 1948, but over the years donor countries have decreased their contributions, resulting in a reduction of available funds with which to provide the rations. Palestinian sources were concerned by information leaked from UNRWA headquarters that services extended to refugees, such as the rations and health care, would end in the coming two years, especially after UNRWA slashed the number of workers who distribute the rations.

Currently, a single team of 10 UNRWA employees handle the rations distribution in each of the five districts where refugee camps are located in Lebanon, whereas previously teams of 10 were present in each camp.
UNRWA members could not be contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, Palestinian popular committees continued their protest against a related UNRWA decision to cut medical coverage, once more closing down the agency's clinics and health centers in refugee camps across the country, a claim the UNRWA refutes.

The protests were stepped up after a meeting scheduled to be held in Sidon between Cook and Palestinian Liberation Organization committees was canceled and relocated to UNRWA headquarters in Beirut.
Lieutenant Colonel Abu Said al-Youssef, a member of the Higher Follow-Up Committee of popular committees in Lebanon, said the Palestinians have yet to see a positive response from Cook, despite contacts made by the PLO commander in Lebanon and the popular committees.

Youssef said the protests will continue until the UNRWA meets the refugees' "fair" demands, most notably the reversal of this month's decision to partner with the Beirut General University Hospital (BGUH) instead of the Hammoud Hospital in Sidon.

The committees' information official Abu Rabih Derbas said: "Violating our people's rights for services is strictly forbidden," adding that the refugees will counter "UNRWA's arbitrary policy with further popular action."
The health-care decision reportedly also includes a care reduction to a third-grade level.

But according to a UNRWA statement issued in response to an article published in Tuesday's edition of The Daily Star, the "UNRWA has not reduced the quality nor quantity of medical care provided to Palestinian refugees, rather the contrary."

The statement read: "A new agreement has indeed been signed between UNRWA and the BGUH for the treatment of cold cases of tertiary nature (i.e. treatment of a specialized nature requiring multi-specialty interventions).
"The decision was made with the best interests of the Palestinian refugee patients in mind, because it gives him or her first-class treatment at a very reasonable cost, whilst UNRWA's contribution remains the same, thereby reducing the cost to the patient.

"In addition, the majority of patients treated, who come from all over Lebanon, will have less distance to travel.
"UNRWA would like, particularly, to point out that this applies to tertiary care and that all arrangements for the provision of secondary hospital care, i.e. uncomplicated cases, and for open-heart surgery, remain the same as in previous years, provided at contracted hospitals in each area."

The statement further stressed that UNRWA "is not handing over its medical services to the government health-care system, but has taken advantage of high-quality services provided at a competitive price, thereby improving its services to Palestine refugees.
The statement indicated that, contrary to Palestinian claims that certain medicines were no longer available, "the agency confirms that all essential drugs, for both acute and chronic needs, in accordance with the World Health Organization's list of essential drugs, are available at all UNRWA health centers."

The director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon is to meet with Palestinian Popular Committees and senior representatives of the refugee community in "the next few days to further explain the Agency's position on these issues," the statement said.


Palestinian State Minister for Refugee Affairs Abbas Zaki said Wednesday that current Palestinian-Lebanese issues will soon be solved, and announced ongoing preparations to establish diplomatic representation with Lebanon. Zaki, who is also member of Fatah's
central committee, was speaking during a news conference after he met with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail.The pending issues Zaki spoke of include the legal status of Fatah's commander in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, wanted by the Lebanese military court.

"Lebanese law and preserving Lebanon's security and sovereignty are the basis for solving all the pending issues," said Zaki. "We will announce in the coming days a series of measurement that will reassure all the parties."

Zaki added that the "Lebanese and the Palestinians will execute a series of measures as soon as possible to finalize the establishment of diplomatic representation. The Lebanese are serious about realizing this matter."Zaki noted that "technical committees" will follow up on the agreement reached with Siniora, which was based on "refusing settlement, migration and improving the Palestinian refugees' living conditions."

However, the Palestinian official - whose responsibilities include implementing the understandings reached between the Lebanese government and President Mahmoud Abbas during the latter's visit to Beirut in July - faces two challenging tasks: creating a unified Palestinian delegation for the talks with the Lebanese and reaching an agreement with the Lebanese regarding Palestinian arms outside refugee camps.

Following Abbas' visit to Beirut, the Lebanese authorities promised to increase the number of professions in which refugees can be employed, in addition to an easing of restrictions on movements in the refugee camps and residential construction permits.
A failure in any of these two tasks might jeopardize the implementation of the understandings since many Palestinian refugees claim that the promises did not go beyond the declarative stage, pointing to the continuing restrictions on movements and construction permits.Ads by GoooooogleZaki refrained from answering whether he discussed with Siniora Palestinians' weapons inside and outside Palestinian refugee camps, saying: "We discussed all subjects thoroughly in a way that preserves Lebanon's interest and that of the Arab cause.""We trust the Lebanese government, the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Army and I believe international pressure on the Lebanese
will not affect the Palestinian cause which is a primary one for the Lebanese officials," said Zaki. "Palestinian refugees are guests in Lebanon and under the country's law."

He added that he hoped they will be able to return to Palestine soon.But Zaki said it is still "premature" to speak about transporting militants or refugees to the Gaza Strip, even after the Palestinian authorities control the Rafah crossing, noting that "such declarations cannot be implemented specifically after Israel has transformed Gaza into one bigprison."

According to Zaki, the unified Palestinian delegation, including members in the Palestine Liberation Organization and an alliance of Palestinian factions, will soon be formed."We have crossed over 60 percent of the discussions. There is a change in the attitude of both Palestinian and Lebanese parties and more determination to sort things out," he said. "We are currently organizing our internal structure and holding talks with all factions. Ibelieve we will reach an agreement, but if there is a dispute among these factions, it will not occur in Lebanon."Zaki also reassured Palestinian refugees that their conditions will be improved and "that arms will not be used against any Palestinian inside or outside the camps and past tragedies will not be repeated."Zaki later toured the refugee camps and met with leaders of different factions. He is scheduled to meet with President Emile Lahoud and Speaker Nabih Berri.