Lebanon's controversial property laws have attracted floods of criticism from international human rights organisations.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in poverty-stricken refugee camps in Lebanon after fleeing over the border in 1948.

On Monday any hopes of ever owning their own property were dashed when Parliament speaker Nabih Berri withdrew draft legislation which would have lifted a ban on Palestinian refugees from owning property in Lebanon.

"[Berri] withdrew from the agenda the bill presented by 10 deputies which aimed to amend a text banning Palestinians from acquiring real estate," said the dean of the house, Kabalan Issa al-Khuri.

Never return

"This subject is divisive among Lebanese," Berri said. "The acquisition by Palestinians of real estate would damage the Palestinian cause because that way the refugees would remain in Lebanon and never return to Palestine."

"This subject is divisive among Lebanese"

Nabih Berri,
parliament speaker

Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri hinted on Saturday that the time was not right to grant Palestinian refugees such rights but that the "unjust" ban would one day be lifted.

Hundreds of Palestinian refugees staged protests last week against what they termed the "discriminatory and racist" measures in a 2002 property law which has attracted a flood of criticism from human rights organisations.

Mass exodus

The legislation forbids the acquisition of real estate by all non-Lebanese persons "who do not possess citizenship issued by a state recognised by Lebanon."

Palestinian refugees are not specifically mentioned, but the aim is clearly to prevent the permanent settlement of the estimated 390,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, half of whom live in camps.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to Lebanon as part of a mass exodus at the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel, but some have since acquired Lebanese nationality while others left during the 1975-1990 civil war.

For economic and demographic reasons, Beirut refuses permanent residency to Palestinian refugees out of fears it would tip the delicate religious balance of Lebanon further toward Muslims.