|The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raised his country’s flag for the first time at an official embassy in Beirut Wednesday, as hundreds of Palestinians looked on and cheered the historic event.
For decades, official ties have been carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Lebanese government. But in a government decision in 2008, Lebanon decided to establish formal diplomatic ties with Palestinians.
Following the official flag ceremony at the embassy in the south Beirut neighborhood of Jnah, Abbas, who was accompanied by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, walked through the cheering crowd into the main hall.
Emerging from among the hundreds of celebrating Palestinians, one heckler chanted slogans against Abbas, saying, “I’m a real PLO official, not Abbas.”
But security presence was heavy in the area and authorities quickly removed the heckler from the crowd.
Abbas described the opening of the embassy as a great achievement for Palestinians and Lebanese.
“The Palestinian flag is now flying in Lebanon’s heart and the heart of every Lebanese who loves Palestine,” Abbas said. “There is no need for Palestinian arms [in Lebanon] because we are protected by the Lebanese government and the Lebanese Army.”
On his official two-day visit to Beirut, Abbas has repeatedly said protection of the Palestinian people in the 12 refugee camps in the country should be provided by Lebanon’s government.
Abbas, who arrived in Beirut Tuesday, has been on a mission to seek international support for the recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September, when the 66th General Assembly opens.
At an iftar banquet at Baabda Palace Tuesday, President Michel Sleiman told Abbas that Lebanon, which will assume the presidency of the Security Council in September, would fully back the Palestinian bid for statehood.
“Hopefully Palestine and Lebanon will go together to the U.N. to win the full membership of a Palestinian state in the international community.”
Thanking the Lebanese government for its initiative to establish diplomatic ties, Abbas said that there are issues of mutual concern for the two peoples.
He added that the Palestinians would not be naturalized in Lebanon but would ultimately return to their homeland. “As we have reiterated in the past, we say it again … we are not with naturalizing but we are with the return of the Palestinians to their homeland,” he said.
According to Abbas, the issue of Palestinian arms in Lebanon and the right of return are the two main issues on which the Lebanese government and the Palestinian leadership would cooperate