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Ramallah, West Bank — According to official Palestinian figures published this week, 5.3 million Palestinians - almost half of their total number in the world - are registered by the United Nations as refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
Many of them live in the concrete warrens of overcrowded camps, with poor access to employment and basic services.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and himself a refugee from a town now in northern Israel, stoked Palestinian outrage last year by telling an Israeli news channel he did not seek to return home.
Saeb Erekat, Abbas’s top negotiator with Israel, said on Wednesday that sectarian conflicts in Syria and Iraq endangered Palestinians there and that Israel’s “refusal to assume responsibility for the refugee question” and to agree on a “just solution” for them was harming prospects for peace.
The Palestinian Authority seeks an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital - all lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel deems Jerusalem its “eternal and indivisible” capital.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence against it, saying a refugee return can be attained only through force.
“Any initiatives and solutions that do not secure the return of our full rights will be rejected by our people. Our holy land is not for sale or bargain,” the group said in a statement.
“Resistance by all its forms, and foremost armed resistance, will remain our way to extract our rights.”