Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has denied giving up on the refugees' right of return, saying remarks about not returning to his home town, which is now in Israel, were only a "personal position."
"I have never and will never give up the right of return," he told Egypt's Al-Hayatt Egyptian satellite channel, according to a transcript released yesterday.
Abbas sought to explain remarks he made in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 on Friday in which he appeared to renege on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes they either fled from or were forced out of during the 1948 war that attended Israel's creation.
"I want to see Safed," he told Channel 2, referring to the town where he grew up which is now in northern Israel. "It's my right to see it but not to live there."
His remarks were hailed as "courageous" by Israeli President Shimon Peres but sparked fury in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where thousands poured onto the streets in protest.
"Talking about Safed is a personal position and does not mean giving up the right of return," he told Al-Hayatt. "No one can give up the right of return, as all international texts and Arab and Islamic decisions refer to a just and agreed solution to the refugee issue, according to UN Resolution 194, with the term 'agreed on' meaning agreed with the Israeli side," he said.
"I do not change my position - what I say to the Palestinians is no different from what I say to the Israelis or the Americans or anyone." The refugee issue would only be resolved in final status talks with Israel, he insisted.
Commenting on the Friday night interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that the Palestinian leader had quickly gone back on his comments,
"Only through direct negotiations can we clarify what the real positions are. If Abu Mazen (Abbas) is really serious about advancing peace, then from my perspective we can sit down together immediately," he said.