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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 17:48 GMT

World: Middle East

Lebanon's forgotten Palestinians

Over 350,000 Palestinian refugees live in camps in Lebanon

By Hilary Andersson in Beirut

One of the most difficult issues facing the Israelis and the Palestinians as they search for a peace deal at talks in the West Bank town of Ramallah is the question of what is to happen to more than three million Palestinian refugees.

More than 350,000 of them currently live in refugee camps in Lebanon and still dream of being allowed to return to their original homes in what is now Israel.

It's more than 50 years since they left their homes. Now they live in camps made up not of tents, but of densely packed buildings and makeshift houses which provide barely enough room for families to live in.

The streets of the notorious Shatila camps - where more than 1,000 people were killed in 1982 - are overcrowded and filthy.

In going about their daily lives, the refugees walk through the rubble of destroyed buildings which, after 17 years, still have not been cleared away.

Work ban

Amid the squalor, most of them have bleak prospects. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are banned from around 70 professions and those who have had access to education are unable to use their qualifications.

The Lebanese fear that if the Palestinians are ever allowed to become full citizens they will upset the delicate political equation between Christians and Muslims in the country.

Most of the refugees do not even want to become citizens. They dream instead of returning to the land they call Palestine, even though the towns they come from are now thoroughly Israeli and some of their homes have long since been destroyed.

Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has made it clear that there will be no mass return of Palestinians to Israel as part of a final peace deal.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat too is thought to be more concerned with other final status issues such Jerusalem and the final borders of the Palestinian state than he is with the forgotten Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

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