- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Dozens of furious Palestinian refugees wrecked a local pollster’s office yesterday to stop him from releasing a survey showing most Palestinian refugees ready to abandon claims to return to what is today Israel.

Two Palestinian militant groups meantime warned that they will not surrender their weapons despite a cease-fire and warned that attempts to disarm them could bring down the 2-week-old truce with Israel.

Dozens of refugees pelted Palestinian academic Khalil Shikaki with eggs when they burst into his office, overturning tables and smashing windows, moments before he was to release the results of his survey on Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Shikaki, whose think tank monitors the Palestinian political pulse through periodic surveys, found that “the vast majority” of refugees were willing to accept monetary compensation and a new life in a Palestinian state in lieu of a return to homes they or their forebears abandoned or were forced to flee when Israel was established in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“This is a message for everyone not to tamper with our rights,” one angry refugee said as others trashed the offices of Mr. Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Around 700,000 Palestinians became refugees when Israel was established in 1948. Their numbers have swelled to over 4 million living in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel opposes the return of the refugees, which it says would reduce the Jews to a minority in Israel, where there are now about 5 million Jews and 1 million Arabs.

The refugees and many Palestinians publicly say there can be no peace with Israel until Israel recognizes the refugees’ right of return.

In Lebanon yesterday, the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad criticized the Palestinian Authority in a joint statement for bowing to Israeli demands to disarm the militant groups — a step Israel says is necessary for the truce to hold.

Although Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas says he will not order security forces to disarm the militants for fear of civil war, police seized some weapons over the weekend in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian security source said, in what appeared to be a first effort to comply with the demand.

The tensions came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon traveled to Europe for meetings on the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

The issue of disarming the militants is deadlocking the plan, which aims to end 33 months of violence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005. The plan requires the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups whose attacks killed hundreds of Israelis during the uprising that began in September 2000.

Israel pulled troops out of parts of Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem last week, a move also required by the road map. But Israel refuses to hand over more towns until the Palestinian Authority disarms the militants. Israeli officials have said the militants are using the break in the fighting to regroup and rearm.

Israeli officials have warned that unless they see action by the Palestinian Authority soon, Israel may take action itself.

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