BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Col. Muammar el Kadafi's decision to expel 30,000 Palestinians from Libya has been greeted with dismay in the Middle East, where Arab countries have no intention of opening their doors to the would-be settlers.
Lebanon already has denied entry to several thousand Palestinians who arrived on two ships from Cyprus and Greece without Lebanese travel documents, and Friday it banned maritime transport from Libya in hopes of cutting off the flow of deportees. About 350 Palestinians from Libya with proper documents were allowed to enter.
Other Palestinians remained stranded at sea or at the Al-Saloum checkpoint on the Libyan-Egyptian border. Egypt has allowed Palestinians with Israeli permits for entry to Gaza or the West Bank to cross Egypt, under escort, to the Palestinian-ruled areas. Those without permits would be turned back by Israel, Egyptian officials said.
Colonel Kadafi shocked the Arab world Sept. 1 when he called on Arab governments to expel Palestinians and send them back to Gaza and to the West Bank as a means of punishing Israeli and Palestinian leaders for making peace. There are an estimated 4 million Palestinians living outside what was once Palestine.
"Since the Palestinian leaders claim they have now got a homeland and a passport," Colonel Kadafi said, "let the 30,000 Palestinians in Libya go back to their homeland, and let's see if the Israelis would permit them to return. That's how the world will find out that the peace it's been advocating is no more than treachery and a conspiracy."
Exactly how many Palestinians have been expelled from Libya is unclear. Palestinian dissidents in Beirut place the number between 1,000 and 2,000.
One Beirut newspaper reported last week that up to 15,000 Palestinians were preparing to leave Libya for Lebanon, but Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's government has made it clear it doesn't want them.
The Palestinian issue in Lebanon, where 300,000 Palestinians live, is a sensitive one. The Palestine Liberation Organization operated as a state within a state in Lebanon until being driven out of Beirut by Israel in 1982.
The Arab League and several Arab governments have called on Colonel Kadafi to rescind his expulsion order, and diplomatic sources said negotiations involving Egypt, the Arab League and Syrian-based Palestinian rejectionist groups were under way in an attempt to mediate the dispute.
An Nahar, a Beirut daily newspaper, reported Friday that the Palestinian Authority in Gaza would admit only those expelled Palestinians who originally came from Gaza or the West Bank.
"This is a real disaster befalling the Palestinian people," Col. Munir Makdah, a Palestinian dissident, told the newspaper.
The Palestinian Authority condemned Colonel Kadafi's expulsion order, saying it violates Arab ethics and mutual interests of the two brotherly peoples.