Arab American activists and leaders from around the nation voted here yesterday to press for efforts to protect them from harassment from government agencies such as the FBI.

"I don't know of any contingency plans for Arab Americans to be put in concentration camps, but these {FBI} interviews in my judgment are frightening," U.S. Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.) told a conference of Arab Americans gathered in Washington for an emergency meeting on ramifications of the Persian Gulf War.

FBI officials have conducted interviews with dozens of Arab Americans in recent days, ostensibly to inform them of the agency's intention to protect them from backlash from the gulf crisis. However, the agents also asked them about their political beliefs, their attitudes toward the war and what they knew about possible terrorism, according to organizations representing Arab Americans.

The FBI has denied any intention to intimidate Arab Americans.

About 2.5 million Arab Americans live in the United States, including about 80,000 in the Washington area.

After hearing Dymally describe the anti-harassment resolution he plans to introduce this week on behalf of Arab Americans, the conferees agreed to back his resolution and to press for similar resolutions from mayors and city councils across the country.

Yesterday's conference, convened by the Arab-American Institute, the largest political organization in the Arab American community, was urged to take a cue from the U.S. civil rights movement and form a leadership conference to protect civil liberties and fight discrimination.

"You need a coalition . . . on this issue of FBI surveillance," Dymally said. He advised the conference to recruit other groups, including Jewish and Hispanic organizations, to join their cause in fighting what he described as an "unwarranted intrusion of constitutional privacy."

There was no immediate action on that suggestion, but the conference did vote to secure resolutions from city councils and other groups calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East and an international peace conference.

The institute condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, supported all of the United Nations' resolutions regarding Iraq and backed the goals of President Bush up to the actual war, said Executive Director James T. Zogby.

"We feel the president can realize his goals without a war; we feel war was avoidable and makes the region more unstable," Zogby said.

The conference also voted to begin community programs to support relief efforts for refugees of the war and to help Arab American families and their children deal with the psychological stress of the fighting.

For Albert Richie, 55, a Syrian-born businessman from Allentown, Pa., and his brother-in-law, Kamal Abboud, a Syrian-born steelworker from Bethlehem, Pa., the gulf war has posed tough new problems for their U.S.-born children. The men said their children had been stung by the remarks of peers calling attention to their heritage.

"Someone will say to them, 'Hey, you're an Arab, get out of here,' " Abboud said. Sometimes the remark is made in jest, sometimes it is intended as an insult, he said.

Some of the 65 Arab Americans at the conference traveled from as far away as California. In all, 13 states were represented.

Amal Winter, 49, who described herself as "half Egyptian, half American," came from Santa Clara County, Calif., where she is a member of the board of trustees of the West Valley Mission Community College.

Winter said she hoped to go home and use what she learned at the conference to set up an outreach program to help Arab American victims of intimidation and harassment.

Other conference participants took advantage of the meeting to meet with other Arab Americans. During one break, McLean businessman Fuad K. Taima moved around the room, shaking hands and reporting on the activities of the American Iraqi Foundation, the nonprofit group he established July 17 to develop better ties between the people of Iraq and the United States.

Taima said he was a member of a seven-person delegation that went to Baghdad in October, met with Saddam Hussein and brought back 14 former hostages. He estimated that there are 300,000 Iraqi Americans in the United States with an estimated 3 million relatives in Iraq.

The family links make this war more emotionally difficult for Arab Americans than previous clashes in the region, said Oussama Romdhani, 34, the bureau chief of the Tunisian news agency based in Washington.

"Most of the Arab American community is traumatized from the psychological and political shock of what is happening," Romdhani said. "There were wars in 1967 and 1973," he said, "but this is the first one to pit the U.S. against an Arab country."