BEIRUT (AFP) – One of the Palestinian militant groups which retains bases in Lebanon said that it would only discuss laying down its weapons once the country’s 380,000 Palestinian refugees have been accorded basic civic rights. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) — a hardline pro-Syrian group — demanded that a week-long national dialogue conference under way in Beirut tackle the plight of the refugees and not simply the question of militant weapons.

"The Palestinian question in Lebanon should not be discussed exclusively from the security point of view. We’re asking the dialogue conference … to decide on concrete steps as far as the humanitarian, civic and political rights of the Palestinians," PFLP-GC spokesman Anwar Rajab told reporters."If that’s done, the weapons question will not be a problem."Resolution 1559, adopted by the UN Security Council in 2004, requires the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as well as Palestinian groups.

Implementation of the resolution is one of the key issues on the agenda of the national dialogue conference which opened Thursday.

The PFLP-GC spokesman called for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to have the "right to work and housing, including the right to own property, as well as the right to engage in political activities in defence of the Palestinian cause".

"We have to establish an atmosphere of confidence between Lebanese and Palestinians," he said, recalling that in 1982, after the withdrawal of Palestinian militants in the face of  Israel‘s march on Beirut, hundreds of refugees had been killed in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Chatila.

Rajab accused the Lebanese authorities of trying to get rid of the Palestinian community by stealth by denying them their residence rights.

"Any Palestinian refugee, even one recognized by the United Nations as resident in Lebanon, can only return home if he gets hold of a visa and they’re virtually impossible to get hold of," the spokesman said.

"The result is that some 100,000 Palestinians registered in Lebanon are unable to return after leaving to work in the Gulf or elsewhere."

In June last year, Lebanon eased work restrictions on Palestinian refugees, in a move advocacy groups hailed as "a very important first step" towards improving the community’s lot.

Labour minister Trad Hamadeh exempted Lebanese-born Palestinians who are registered refugees from a more than two-decade-old ban on non-Lebanese practising some 50 trades in the private sector.

But bans on Palestinians seeking professional employment or buying property remain in force.

Lebanon has always insisted that the refugees must go home, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 194 of 1948, fearing the impact of permanent resettlement on its fragile sectarian balance.

But Israel has repeatedly ruled out any prospect of a return to lands that now make up the Jewish state.