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Arab Countries Reluctant to Receive Expelled Palestinians

By David Lamb
Los Angeles Times
BEIRUT, Lebanon

Col. Moammar Gadhafi's decision to expel 30,000 Palestinians from Libya has been greeted with dismay in the Middle East, where Arab countries have no intention of opening their doors to the would-be settlers.

Lebanon already has denied entry to several thousand Palestinians who arrived on two ships from Cyprus and Greece without Lebanese travel documents, and Friday it banned maritime transport from Libya in hopes of cutting off the flow of deportees. About 350 Palestinian from Libya with proper documents were allowed to enter.

Other Palestinians remained stranded at sea or at the Al-Saloum checkpoint on the Libyan-Egyptian border. Egypt has allowed Palestinians with Israeli permits for entry to Gaza or the West Bank to cross Egypt, under escort, to the Palestinian-ruled areas. Those without permits would be turned back by Israel, Egyptian officials said.

Gadhafi shocked the Arab world Sept. 1 when, speaking at a public rally to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power, he called on Arab governments to expel Palestinians and send them back to Gaza and to the West Bank as a means of punishing Israeli and Palestinian leaders for making peace. There are an estimated 4 million Palestinians living outside what was once Palestine.

"Since the Palestinian leaders claim they have now got a homeland and a passport," Gadhafi said, "let the 30,000 Palestinians in Libya go back to their homeland, and let's see if the Israelis would permit them to return. That's how the world will find out that the peace it's been advocating is no more than treachery and a conspiracy."

Gadhafi earlier had ordered hundreds of Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese out of Libya as a result of disturbances in the city of Benghazi in June. Reports from Libya at the time said those deported were Muslim fundamentalists. Gadhafi has referred to fundamentalists as heretics.

Exactly how many Palestinians have been expelled from Libya since Sept. 1 is unclear. Palestinian dissidents in Beirut, who do not support the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, place the number between 1,000 and 2,000. One Beirut newspaper reported last week that up to 15,000 Palestinians were preparing to leave Libya for Lebanon, but Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's government has made it clear it doesn't want them.

The Palestinian issue in Lebanon, where 300,000 Palestinians still live, is a sensitive one, as many Lebanese blame the heavy-handed tactics of the Palestine Liberation Organization for helping spark 15 years of civil war that began in 1975. The PLO operated as a state within a state here until being driven out of Beirut by Israel in 1982.

There is near-unanimous agreement in Lebanon against letting the Palestinian refugees here remain permanently. Many of them are refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and live in squalid communities on the outskirts of Beirut and in Sidon. They have no work permits and no citizenship anywhere.

Several Arab governments have called on Gadhafi to rescind his expulsion order, and diplomatic sources said negotiations involving Egypt, the Arab League and Syrian-based Palestinian rejectionist groups were under way in an attempt to mediate the dispute.