Sleiman reiterates rejection of settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon, denies foreign pressures

PM Hariri pays important official visit to Spain

Hariri warns in Madrid of peace collapse risks

Spanish premier says Lebanon is vital in march towards stability, peace

Israel breaches Lebanese borders, carries out projects along frontier line

Nearly nine out of 10 Palestinian refugees believe that services provided by the UN are insufficient, according to the results of a wide-ranging survey to be unveiled Thursday.

Almost 70 percent of refugees questioned said they were unsatisfied with the work of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNWRA).

The questionnaire was conducted in collaboration with the Palestinian Return Gathering in Damascus, Palestinian Return Center in London and the Sabet Organization for the Right of Return in Beirut and surveyed more than 1400 refugees from Lebanon and Syria.

Carried out in October 2009 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of UNWRA, the survey aimed “to reach very scientific and specific results and take into consideration the realities of the camps in which refugees live,” said a joint statement seen by The Daily Star.

The poll showed 86 percent of refugees thought UNWRA’s work was “insufficient,” although those questioned were almost unanimously supportive of the agency’s existence.

When asked, “Do you approve with UNWRA continuing to provide services for refugees?” 92 percent of interviewees responded that they sought the continuation of the organization’s services.

Abdo Saad, director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information, said the survey indicated Palestinians were as reliant as ever on UNWRA and the agency would only be able to stop providing support for refugees once their right of return was established.

“It is apparent that ending UNWRA services is practically and solely linked to implementing and achieving the right of return, meaning the refugees, with their political and national instinct are acting according to the rule that UNWRA is responsible for them,” he said.

Saad added that hosting countries should give the refugees their civil and human rights and improve living situations. He said that UNWRA, the international community and NGOs should form an emergency plan to improve the economic and living situation of the displaced.

Survey results are set to be unveiled in Beirut Thursday, but figures obtained by The Daily Star show the following:

l Some 44.9 percent of respondents classed UNWRA’s health services as “weak,” with 40.3 percent of respondents calling them “acceptable”

l Only 35.3 percent of refugees believed UNWRA’s education services were “acceptable.” Some 22.1 percent saw them as “weak” and 26.4 percent as “good”

l More than half of those questioned – 55.5 percent – thought UNRWA’s relief efforts were “weak,” with just 9.2 percent viewing them as “good”

l When asked “do you see any deterioration in UNWRA services?” 64.1 percent answered “yes” with only 5.4 percent claiming they had witnessed no decline in treatment by the agency

The primary demands of refugees questioned were an increase in health services and medicinal supplies, followed by improved educational and cultural activities in addition to job opportunities.

In Madrid, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged Israel on Thursday to "move ahead" towards finding a political solution with the Palestinians by privileging dialogue over "little wars".

"Israel must move ahead" because "we need to have a credible process that the Arab world can believe in," Hariri said in Madrid at a joint news conference with his Spanish counterpart Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

He accused Israel of "trying to create little wars here and there to hold up the peace process."

"The Israelis have to understand that weapons and destruction only incite hate and violence," he added.

"Israel has to be told that 'you can start all the wars you want in the Middle East but in the end there can only be a political solution'," said Hariri, on the first of a two-day trip to the Spanish capital.

"A political solution, with the existing consensus in Europe, the United States and the Arab world, is the only way to make progress in the region," he said.

Zapatero said that Israel's announcement last month of plans for the construction of homes in occupied East Jerusalem was a "serious problem" that "put the brakes" on the possibility of indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"The current moment is historic for getting an agreement because the international community and the Arab world have a very clear position and there is a wide consensus," he stressed.

Spain currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency and also is in command of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or UNIFIL.

On the other hand, several Israeli soldiers breached a technical fence along the Blue Line on Saturday, but conflicting reports emerged on whether or not the company had entered south Lebanon.

The Lebanese Army issued a statement on Sunday, saying that almost a dozen soldiers had crossed the Hasbani River and encroached on Lebanese soil.

“At 6:45 am, an Israeli patrol, containing 11 members, entered a resort on the [Hasbani] River, for a distance of 70 meters.

They removed the steering wheel of a bulldozer which was parked inside the resort,” the statement said. “They went back to the east bank of the river south of the village of Ghajar,” it added.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which along with the Lebanese Army was scrambled to deal with Saturday’s incident, said that no violation of Lebanese territory had occurred.

The patrol had only crossed an Israeli technical fence, according to UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti.

“Yesterday … at around 07:45, 10 [Israeli] soldiers crossed the Israeli technical fence about 2 kilometers south of Ghajar,” he said. “UNIFIL did not observe [Israel] crossing the Blue Line that runs in the middle of the Hasbani River in this stretch.

The Lebanese Armed Forces were also present at the location.” Tenenti added that an investigation into the incident had been launched with the aim of “ascertaining all the facts concerning the events.”

However, when contacted by The Daily Star, the owner of the resort in question insisted that Israeli soldiers entered his land inside Lebanon.

“They [Israeli soldiers] went into the resort, took a part of a machine and damaged the machine. This was a warning not to work on the site during the day,” said Khalil Abdullah, owner of the Wazzani Fort, a tourist resort currently being built on the banks of the Hasbani River.

Abdullah had been working on the controversial $3 million tourism project close to the Blue Line for a number of months. It is scheduled to partially open at the beginning of the summer.

Abdullah added that he had “received a warning from UNIFIL,” suggesting he not work on the construction during daylight hours and not to leave any heavy machinery close to the river, for fear of Israeli provocation.

When informed of Abdullah’s claims, Lieutenant Colonel Naresh Bhatt, a high-ranking UNIFIL officer positioned close to the Wazzani Fort, responded: “I cannot tell at this moment.

This case is being investigated and time will tell us the facts.” An-Nahar, quoting security sources, reported that the incursion by Israeli soldiers did breach Lebanese territory.

“It is clear that Israeli soldiers came in [to Lebanon] because you can see their footprints from the river to the resort, to the bulldozer and back to the river,” the source was reported as saying.

The conflicting nature of claims could have arisen due to poor demarcation of stretches of the Blue Line, a former long-term UNIFIL adviser told The Daily Star.

“The Blue Line doesn’t always follow the [technical] fence. The fence was built by the Israelis to serve their own needs,” said Timur Goksel, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

The Blue Line was initially demarcated to correspond with the line of Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.

However, the formal marking of the boundary has stalled due to existing mine-fields in both countries and Israeli ground incursions into south Lebanon during its July-August 2006 summer war against Lebanon.

“In 2000 when the UN marked the Blue Line, there were a number of fences, most of which have been abandoned, but some remain,” Goksel said.

“In many places they just painted a few rocks or barrels and said: ‘This is the Blue Line.’”

Several recent incidents suggest that Israeli soldiers may have a fence on their side of the Blue Line which is not representative of the true boundary between the two states.

This, as Goksel explained, doesn’t stop accusations of violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was drafted to end the 2006 war and stipulating that Israel not violate Lebanon’s sovereign borders.

“In several places the Blue Line is north of the [Israeli technical] fence. People think that the fence is the border, it is human nature. We have always struggled with farmers or other residents saying that [Israelis] have crossed into Lebanon when they haven’t,” he said.

“Israel is technically and legally not violating Lebanese territory when they cross that fence and reach the Blue Line.” For his part, Marjayoun-Hasbaya MP Qassem Hashem called Saturday’s incident “a violation of Lebanese sovereignty, Resolution 1701 and an attack on the summer [tourist] season.”

“We asked the UN and UNIFIL to mobilize to stop these actions,” he said.

“This confirms once again that we cannot depend on international decisions, or on the international community. We have to depend on our own power and experiences in confronting the enemy. These have proved successful and have put an end to [Israel’s] permanent dominance,” Hashem added.