Tens of thousands of Palestinians march in support of Iraq
The Jerusalem Post

29 March 2003

Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday in their biggest show of support ever for Iraq, burning effigies of Western leaders and urging Saddam Hussein to attack Israel.

The marches could prove embarrassing for Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority which, while speaking out against the US-led offensive against Iraq, has been careful not to express support for the Iraqi leadership.

After the Iraq war, the Palestinians will depend on the good will of US President George W. Bush who has final say over the fate of an internationally sponsored three-year "road map" to Palestinian statehood.

However, emotions have been running high in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with many Palestinians identifying with the Iraqis and drawing parallels between their 30-month conflict with Israel and the US-led attack on Iraq.

The largest march Friday was organized by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza City, where about 30,000 people poured into the streets after Friday noon prayers in more than a dozen mosques.

Several trucks with loudspeakers led the demonstrators. One man shouted into a bullhorn that the Iraqis should imitate Hamas and send suicide bombers to attack US-led forces. "We advise our brothers in Iraqi to make use of the Palestinian experience and to concentrate on martyrdom operations which will uproot the invaders and plant terror in the heads of the infidels," the man told the crowd.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, about 4,000 supporters of various Palestinian groups took to the streets. The crowd cheered and clapped as effigies of US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were hung from a traffic circle and burned.

"Bush, you will pay with blood for oil," the crowd chanted.

Marches in support of Iraq were also held in the West Bank towns of Qalqiliya, Tulkarem, Halhoul and Yabad, with a total of about 16,000 demonstrators.

Khaled Shaheen, 35, carried a poster of Saddam through the streets of Halhoul, saying he pinned his hopes on the Iraqi leader to push Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the lands the Palestinians want for a state.

"We are placing all our hopes in [Saddam] to liberate us, and we hope he will win this war against Bush and Blair," Shaheen said.

In most marches, demonstrators burned US, British and Israeli flags, waved Iraqi banners and hoisted Saddam posters. A popular chant was: "Our beloved Saddam, hit Tel Aviv," which originated during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.