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Sunday, 6 February, 2000, 04:07 GMT
Ray of hope for Palestinian refugees

Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon Morte than 350,000 Palestinian refugees live in camps in Lebanon

By Frank Gardner in Cairo

Foreign ministers from Egypt, Israel and Jordan are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the plight of Palestinians displaced by the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath is also set to attend the talks, which have been suspended since 1996.

The fact that Israel's Foreign Minister, David Levy, is going to Cairo at all is seen as a positive sign.

And with Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators making slow progress in their talks, this four-nation forum in Cairo could provide a ray of hope.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians on the problem of Arabs displaced by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war have been frozen for nearly four years.

Estimates vary as to how many Palestinians were uprooted from their homes when Israeli troops seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip 33 years ago.

Palestinian militant in Gaza Gaza is now a hotbed of Palestinian militancy
The United Nations puts the figure at about 350,000, but Palestinian officials say those displaced and their descendents number close to 1.5 million.

Under the terms of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Israel is committed to discussing the future of those Palestinians displaced in 1967.

But for many Palestinians the issue of those Arabs who lost their homes in 1948, when Israel was created, is a far more emotional subject.


Those displaced and their descendents are thought to number around three million and their return is something Israel has always ruled out.

Samira Abu Ghazala, who chairs the Palestinian women's union in Egypt, believes no Israeli government will ever dare permit such a huge influx of Palestinians.

She says it will not accept such a move, "because the formula of Israel will be changed if Palestinians return to their homes".

Even for those displaced in 1967, no quick results are expected from Sunday's meeting.

The Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, says a final communique will likely pave the way for future meetings of a committee of experts to discuss the issue further.

Both Israelis and Arabs have long looked to Egypt's President, Husni Mubarak, to help them break deadlock talks.

The Israeli foreign minister is due to meet President Mubarak to follow up on the recent visit to Cairo by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

Meanwhile, Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, told reporters on Saturday that Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians would take what he called a unified stand before Israel at the talks.

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05 Feb 00 |  Middle East
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