Palestinian families, one related to a suicide bomber and 22 others whose relatives were killed by Israeli forces, received $245,000 in checks from Iraq today, underscoring President Saddam Hussein's support for the Palestinian revolt even as he faces the prospect of a U.S.-led war to destroy his government.
The family of a Palestinian suicide bomber received a check for $25,000. The other 22 families, of Palestinian fighters or civilians killed during Israeli army ground attacks or airstrikes, received $10,000 each.
Leaders of a pro-Iraqi Palestinian group handed out the checks after delivering fiery speeches extolling the Iraqi president's virtues to hundreds of relatives of the dead who were packed into a dingy hall of a YMCA in a Gaza City. Officials of the group, the Arab Liberation Front, said Hussein has paid $35 million to the kin of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since the uprising against Israel began in September 2000.
"Saddam Hussein considers those who die in martyrdom attacks as people who have won the highest degree of martyrdom," an official of the Arab Liberation Front said.
"Iraq and Palestine are in one trench. Saddam is a hero," said a banner over a mural of Hussein and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who sided with Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War against U.S.-led forces but has kept a low profile during the current crisis.
Bereaved family members, some of them weeping, chanted slogans in support of Iraq as the United States and Britain press for a U.N. Security Council ultimatum ordering Iraq to fulfill disarmament demands or face attack.
Palestinians under Israeli occupation rallied in support of Iraq during the Gulf War; some cheered when Iraqi Scud missiles crashed into Israeli coastal cities. During the current uprising, Palestinian militants have staged rallies in support of Iraq against the United States. In a speech to the Palestinian parliament yesterday, Arafat urged governments around the world to prevent war against Iraq and give more time for weapon inspectors.
Israel, which wants the U.S. military to remove Hussein, has said his financial gifts to Palestinians during the uprising encourages terrorism. But Palestinians say the money is used to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel and raise the children of those killed in the revolt.
"Saddam supports the families of the martyrs, not terrorism. It is a shame that Arabs stand silent as America prepares to occupy Iraq," said Ahmed Sabah, 69, whose son was killed by an Israeli missile strike in December.
Israeli officials said Sabah's son, Mustafa, was behind bomb attacks on three Israeli tanks that killed seven soldiers last year.
"America is the chief terrorist state and Israel is its deputy and representative in the Middle East," said Sabri Salama, a relative of two Palestinian teenagers killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in January.
Ibrahim Zaanin, a leader of the Arab Liberation Front, said he hoped ceremony to distribute Iraqi funds to Palestinian families would not be the last.