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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Egypt mediates between Lebanon and Syria over Palestinian arms

Tuesday, 31 January, 2006 Ya Libnan: Beirut & Cairo- Egypt's Intelligence Chief is expected to be in Syria Tuesday to hold talks with top Syrian and Damascus-based Palestinian officials to help solve the issue of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon, both inside and outside the refugee camps.

Omar Suleiman will discuss with President Bashar Assad and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal the deployment of Palestinian armed groups outside Lebanon's refugee camps, which has become a cause of increasing concern to the Lebanese people and authorities.

The talks come amid a deepening crisis between Syria and Lebanon over the U.N. investigation of former PM Rafik Hariri's assassination. The Feb. 14 murder along with a series of bomb blasts targeting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists were largely blamed on Damascus, which has denied the accusations.

Assad may try and make the issue of Palestinian armed groups in Lebanon a Palestinian-Lebanese affair, as has been reported by some papers, but the Lebanese will not buy this. Lebanon blames Syria for actions done by pro-Syrian Palestinian armed groups that have undermined Lebanon's security.

According to reports, Mashaal who is the head of Hamas, the organization that swept the elections in Palestine, may show more cooperation. He may in fact be willing to bargain the arms issue if Lebanon will provide better living conditions and more security for the Palestinians. People in the camps live under the worst conditions...there is a lack of basic civil rights ...they do not have the right to work in dozens of professions ...are not entitled to social security benefits...and do not have the right to own or inherit property.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian gunman from the pro-Syrian ( PFLP-GC) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command opened fire at two municipal policemen in Naameh, south of Beirut. The men were seriously wounded, causing uproar among residents who demanded that Palestinian weapons be banned outside refugee camps.

The Palestinian presence in Naameh, where the PFLP-GC maintains a network of tunnels and arms caches, has often been a source of anxiety for residents of Beirut and the Chouf region. Israeli warplanes have often struck Naameh.

Suleiman will arrive in Beirut on Wednesday to meet top Lebanese officials. His visit comes after a meeting held between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week in Cairo. The two officials agreed to engage Egypt in mediation efforts between Syria and Lebanon to resolve the issue of Palestinian weapons.

"Palestinian weapons in the camps should be brought under control and there is no reason why they should leave these camps," Siniora said following his talks with Mubarak.

"Lebanon looks forward to the role that Omar Suleiman will play between Damascus and Beirut to solve this issue," he added.
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