Tensions rising between Lebanon and its Syrian residents

Special to World
Sunday, May 11, 2003

Lebanon is mulling a proposal to strip tens of thousands of Syrians of their citizenship.

The recommendation was submitted by Lebanon's constitutional council, a 10-member panel that examines laws to determine whether they conform with the constitution. The council has asked the Interior Ministry to remove citizenship from Palestinians and Syrians granted in 1994.

"The Interior Ministry must examine the files of all the people granted Lebanese nationality in order to go back on the decisions in cases where they do not qualify," the council said in a statement.

The Interior Ministry has never provided figures for how many Palestinians and Syrians were granted Lebanese citizenship in 1994. Lebanese analysts estimate the figure to be up to 300,000.

"We will annul the citizenships of all the Palestinians who do not deserve it and who falsified documents and submitted thousands of applications in order to obtain it," Interior Minister Elias Murr said.

Over the last decade, Lebanon has been flooded by Syrian laborers, now estimated at more than 1 million. Lebanese have complained that the laborers have taken away many jobs in the country and reduced the cost of labor.

Lebanon has more than 300,000 Palestinians and Beirut has insisted that they leave in any Middle East peace settlement. Over the weekend, armed clashes continued in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, Ein Hilwe, near Sidon. The clashes pitted Fatah combatants against Islamic insurgents believed linked to Al Qaida.

The recommendation by the council came in wake of a complaint by the Maronite League. The league argued that neither Palestinians nor non-resident Syrians qualify for citizenship under the constitution.

The league has argued that the 1994 move has altered the demographic balance in Lebanon and has hurt the Christian community. Christians, who once composed a majority of Lebanon, are now said to comprise a third of the population.

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