BEIRUT/SIDON: Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman said Thursday he has taken the necessary measures to facilitate granting work permits to Palestinians, insisting that he will continue to implement the labor law.
Since Monday, Palestinians have held a general strike and protests against Abousleiman's crackdown on undocumented foreign labor, saying it unfairly targeted them.
Abousleiman announced that the new measures include exempting Palestinians from enrollment in social security to obtain a work permit, and that he had instructed ministry employees to issue permits as quickly as possible.
He said acquiring a work permit helped Palestinian workers, as it guaranteed them their rights under the law.
“Even in violations, I gave instructions to have the fines be the same as the ones given to Lebanese. Treatment would be equal with the Lebanese,” the minister said during a news conference at Parliament.
Abousleiman said his ministry’s plan was not specifically directed at Palestinians, but sought to combat undocumented labor in accordance with the Lebanese labor law, which requires non-Lebanese workers to have work permits.
The Labor Ministry found 600 violations to the law since the inspection started last week, with two violations given to Palestinians, including one for a Palestinian-owned factory in Koura, which Abousleiman said would be reopened soon after it acquired the necessary paperwork.
But following the minister’s announcement, residents of Ain al-Hilweh called on protesters to "not leave the streets," adding that a meeting would be held at 3 p.m. to discuss upcoming steps.
Palestinian sources told The Daily Star earlier in the day that if Abousleiman did not stop his crackdown, there would be an escalation.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also weighed in on the issue, saying the protests going on in Palestinian refugee camps have a "political background," and are not a result of the decision of Abousleiman, who is an LF minister.
“The movements in some Palestinian camps have nothing to do with Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman’s decision to regulate labor in Lebanon, including Palestinian labor, especially that ... he gave them all possible facilitations allowed by the law,” Geagea said in a statement Thursday.
Hamas responded to Geagea's remarks in a statement, saying the LF chief’s accusation of politicization was a "false accusation” and an attempt to "distort the image of the Palestinian movement."
The group demanded that Geagea "withdraw [his comments] immediately," and warned of unnamed negative repercussions.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri told MPs Thursday morning that he would ask the labor minister to submit his plan on fighting illegal foreign labor to Cabinet.
Abousleiman told The Daily Star that he would provide more details on the new measures to simplify work permit applications for Palestinians Thursday evening.
But Speaker Nabih Berri told MPs Thursday morning that he didn't want Abousleiman to wait until the evening, but instead announce the measures immediately in order to defuse tensions.
Hariri then said he would ask the Abousleiman to send his plan to Cabinet so the ministers could decide on it. “And this way the minister would not alone take the responsibility,” Hariri said.
Berri and Hariri spoke after Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar raised the issue during a Parliament session held to discuss the draft 2019 state budget Thursday.
In an attempt to defuse tensions, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also sent an envoy to Beirut.
Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met General Security head Abbas Ibrahim Thursday morning after arriving in Beirut Wednesday night, according to local media.
Ahmad said Thursday that there should not be a crisis in Palestinian refugee camps and called on residents to remain calm as they continued a general strike, the state-run National News Agency reported.
“The factions gathered here today in the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon agreed on freezing the camps’ activities,” Ahmad said, according to the Quds News Agency.
Following a meeting with Hariri later the same day, Ahmad reiterated Abbas’ position that “dialogue alone” should solve the issue of Palestinians’ work permits in Lebanon.
“We have to be united as Lebanese and Palestinians, as we are used to maintaining the security of the camps,” local media quoted him as saying.