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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
'Riot' over Palestinian poll
Palestinian refugees
The issue of refugees will be a stumbling block in any talks
Only a small minority of Palestinian refugees would seek to return to live in Israel if allowed under a peace agreement, a controversial survey suggests.

Eminent Palestinian political scientist Dr Kahil Shikaki was pushed, shoved and pelted with eggs as he released details of the research by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research.

Its poll found only 10% of respondents in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon would wish to rebuild their homes under Israeli rule - a finding challenging existing Israeli and Palestinian perceptions.

The controversial "right of return" issue will be a key part of negotiations if the current "road map" peace plan leads to renewed talks on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even dovish Israelis reject risking a mass influx of Palestinians to a country already populated by 5.5 million Jews and 1.2 million Arabs.

The passions the issue arouses were made clear when Dr Shikaki called a news conference to present his findings.

About 200 Palestinian refugee activists stormed his Ramallah office on Sunday, smashing furniture, throwing eggs and assaulting Dr Shikaki and some other members of staff.

"We are here to announce that our right of return is a sacred right," said a leaflet distributed by the protesters.

"We will resist any attempt to sabotage our right of return."

'Skewed questions'

Dr Shikaki's research centre polled 4,500 refugee families in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan.

He said 95% of respondents insisted that Israel recognise the right of return as a moral principle.

But many were surprisingly flexible on practical arrangements, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem.

Only 10% demanded permanent residence in Israel and more than half said they would accept instead compensation and homes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The PLO's refugee department said the study did not accurately reflect attitudes in the camps.

Some Palestinian analysts criticised the way the questions were posed, saying they were skewed to get answers that gave up the right of return in practice.


Meanwhile, the dispute between Yasser Arafat and the Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, appears to have been patched up following a meeting on Monday evening at Mr Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

It was the first time the two Palestinian leaders had sat down face to face since Mr Abbas offered to resign from the Central Committee of Yasser Arafat's Fatah Movement last week.

According to Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr, both Mr Arafat and Fatah's Central Committee have offered their full support to the prime minister.

The issue of freeing Palestinian prisoners held by Israel had been a crucial point of contention within the Palestinian leadership.

And it has almost brought the peace process to a halt after Israel agreed last week to release less than five percent of the 6,000 incarcerated in Israeli jails.

Israel accuses Mr Arafat of fomenting terrorism and impeding the efforts of his moderate premier to end the violence.

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