Palestinians Mourn Saddam's Execution

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 30, 2006; 10:23 PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Though much of the world regarded him as a tyrant, Saddam Hussein was mourned by Palestinians Saturday as a generous patron who remained one of their staunchest allies.

Saddam had rejected peace with Israel, sent money to the families of suicide bombers and welcomed many Palestinian refugees to Iraq.

"We heard of his martyrdom, and I swear to God we were deeply shaken from within," said Khadejeh Ahmad from the Qadora refugee camp in the West Bank. "Nobody was as supportive or stood with the Palestinians as he did."

Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem opened a "house of condolence," where dozens of people gathered on white chairs to drink black coffee and mourn the executed dictator.

There was at least one parade in his honor in Gaza, where some Palestinians displayed a poster with his image next to that of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who was present at the hanging, said at about the time the noose was slipped over his head, Saddam shouted: "Palestine is Arab."

Early accounts of the execution indicated those were his final words. But in a videotape that surfaced later in the day, the former dictator was heard reciting a verse from the Quran a moment before his death.

During the first Gulf War in 1991, Saddam attacked Israel in a failed ploy to force his Arab brethren to abandon the U.S.-led coalition arrayed against him and join Iraq in fighting the Jewish state. As Saddam's Scud missiles flew overhead en route to Israel, Palestinians chanted: "Beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv."

He further endeared himself to the Palestinians during the recent uprising against Israel by giving $25,000 to the family of each suicide bomber and $10,000 for each Palestinian killed in fighting. The stipends totaled an estimated $35 million.

Saddam's support for the Palestinians _ whose cause is deeply popular with Arabs throughout the Middle East _ was at least partially aimed at cultivating grass-roots support for his regime.

Saddam's downfall _ his defeat by America, his capture in a filthy hole, his conviction and his execution _ dismayed Palestinians. They lionized the former Iraqi leader and praised his willingness to stand up to America and Israel when other Arab leaders would not.

"Saddam was a person who had the ability to say, 'No,' in the face of a great country," said Hosni al Ejel, 46, from the al Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

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