TUNIS, JAN. 17 -- The Palestine Liberation Organization today accused the U.S.-led military force in the Persian Gulf of "cowardly aggression" against Iraq and, in what many saw as a threat of terrorism against the West, warned that "blood, catastrophe and destruction" will sweep the world as a result.

The harsh statement by the PLO's Executive Committee, which some officials attempted later to blunt, and a similarly strong condemnation by Jordan were in contrast to most Arab reaction today, as several governments delivered low-key criticisms and demonstrations generally fell short of the mass eruptions many in the West had feared.

The Arab-Israeli dimension of the conflict is likely to increase sharply following tonight's Iraqi missile attack against Israel, which has drawn the Jewish state into the conflict. A clearer gauge of Arab popular reaction to the war against Iraq is likely Friday, the Moslem day of worship and a time often used by Islamic religious leaders and congregations for public expression.

In a half-dozen Arab states -- Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen -- pro-Iraqi crowds marched and shouted anti-American protests. In most cases, they were contained by security forces, but militants ransacked the French consulate in Constantine, Algeria.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the entire 1.7 million Arab population was put under curfew this morning, hours after the U.S.-led multinational force began its bombardment of Iraq and the forces of President Saddam Hussein, but only minor outbursts were reported. "The mood in the occupied territories today is of disbelief," said Hanna Siniora, a prominent Palestinian editor in East Jerusalem.

Jordan, which since August had attempted to walk a careful line between political support of Saddam and compliance with the U.N. embargo, today condemned the "savage onslaught against an Arab Moslem country."

The statement, issued after an urgent cabinet meeting attended by King Hussein, deplored the attack and declared: "All those who participated shall bear their responsibility toward God, humanity and history for aiming to smash a military, scientific and Arab human force."

{At the White House, press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the United States "was not surprised" at the Jordanian criticism since Hussein "has clearly made his allegiance with Saddam Hussein known." Fitzwater said the White House has "had some disappointment in terms of our relationship with Jordan," but "we are hopeful that out of all this will emerge a relationship that can be reconstructed."}

Simmering resentment that possibly foreshadowed a feared backlash of anti-Western sentiment was the mood in the streets of Amman, the Jordanian capital, and angry Jordanians and Palestinian refugees lined up to volunteer to fight alongside Iraq.

A Palestinian official in Tunis denied that the statement issued by the Executive Council was a sign that the PLO might forfeit its 1988 renunciation of terrorism, and said it was meant only to spur on the Palestinian revolt in the Israeli-occupied territories.

But the denial and a subsequent, more moderate statement did little to mitigate the increasingly militant tone of PLO officials a day after the war against Iraq began and three days after the assassination of Salah Khalaf, the organization's second in command and a leading moderate.

Khalaf -- also known as Abu Iyad -- and two other PLO aides assassinated with him Monday night by a Palestinian bodyguard were buried here today, and Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction, gave the eulogy. He condemned "American imperialism in attacking the land of Iraq," calling the war an attack against the Palestinian nation as well.

The Executive Committee statement read: "We are all exposed to aggression when the Arab capital of {Baghdad} is bombed. The Palestinian, Arab and Islamic masses proclaim that the United States of America and the other countries following it are responsible for the blood, catastrophe and destruction that will sweep the region and the world thanks to the American aggression."

Privately, PLO officials tried to play down the harsh tone of the statement, but as one senior leader said, "The hatred among the people is beyond the control of any leader to talk to the masses. No leader can justify the American policy in any way."

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, in a mild reaction, urged the United Nations to limit military operations to liberating Kuwait and to halt air raids on Iraq, the Associated Press reported.

Syria, which is participating in the multinational force but is equally uncomfortable with the United States and Iraq, issued a terse statement saying, "An official source confirms the unity of the people and land of Iraq." But the ruling Baath Party's newspaper blamed Saddam for the war and said, "No one can shed a tear for this regime."

Egypt, which has the second-largest Arab contingent in the multinational force, after Saudi Arabia, was reserved in its official reaction today, but hundreds of jubilant Kuwaiti refugees filled Cairo streets and few Egyptians questioned by special correspondent John Arundel had a good word for Saddam.

"I'm praying for peace," Hamdi Abdul Halem, a shopkeeper, said as he emerged from a downtown mosque. "I'm also praying for Saddam to surrender." Zizean Said, a hotel porter, said, "Saddam is a crazy man who is headed for a very big fall. He's getting what he deserves."

The mood was far different at the Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan, a 20-minute drive out of Amman. "Defense of Iraq is the defense of Jordan," read a banner strung over the entrance. Inside, Palestinian men, old and young, gathered nervously in the square to listen intently to a speech by Saddam and Iraqi military communiques blaring out of a loudspeaker tuned to Baghdad Radio.

Kazem Awad, a pharmacist, slammed his pistol on a counter. "The war must continue to create another Vietnam for America," he said. "If Iraq absorbs the first blow, Iraq will be victorious. A true Arab dies once, and a coward dies a hundred times," he added stoically.

Outside his Palestine Pharmacy, elderly men in the traditional kaffiyehs stared solemnly, their hands behind their back, and anxious young man, hands dug deep into their pockets, crowded around a speaker to hear the latest from the Iraq front.

Many of the younger men said they hoped the war would spread to Jordan and spill over into the occupied territories. "If the {Jordanian} government does not fight, it will be attacked," one said. "Either you are with the United States or against it."

Jordanians themselves fluctuated between enthusiasm and resentment toward the Iraqi leader who had placed their small country on the edge of disaster.

"Where is this victory he promised us? Isn't he going to hit the oil wells? Is there no hope?" blurted out an elegant secretary at one of Amman's posh hotels.

The bulk of frustration, however, was dumped on the United States. "I feel bitter and sick. I never thought that guardians of justice could inflict so much injustice. Two wrongs don't make a right," lamented Akel Biltaji, executive vice president of Alia, the Jordanian airline. "The issue is not Saddam, it is the whole world and our future generations in this region."

Waxman reported from Tunis and Boustany from Amman.