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In Desperate Move, Palestinians Support Saddam Hussein

August 13, 1990 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied lands are celebrating President Saddam Hussein of Iraq as a savior who can win back the West Bank and Gaza Strip and restore Arab pride by teaching the Americans a lesson.

The euphoric support for Saddam has replaced the widespread despair gripping Palestinians since Middle East peace efforts broke down and their 32- month uprising against Israel lost momentum.

It also has united the PLO - already closely allied with Saddam - and Moslem fundamentalist factions that have been at each others’ throats during the uprising.

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Pro-Saddam sentiments reached near-frenzy Monday, a day after Saddam said he would only consider pulling out of Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Thousands marched in pro-Saddam rallies in the West Bank and celebrated him as a national hero who would deliver by force what diplomacy failed to achieve.

In the West Bank’s largest city, Nablus, some 2,000 people chanted ″Saddam, we are with you until victory 3/8″ and waved Iraqi flags and posters of the leader. In the town of Jenin, about 1,000 marchers urged Saddam to attack Israel with chemical weapons.

Leading pro-PLO activists said the outbursts are a measure of the frustration over failed peace efforts. They blamed the United States for not forcing its close ally, Israel, to make a deal with the Palestinians and give up occupied land.

″People here are frustrated that there is no solution to their plight. That explains their enthusiastic support for somebody who might find that solution,″ said Radwan Abu Ayyash, head of the Arab Journalists Association in the occupied lands.

″The Palestinians are anti-American, not pro-Saddam,″ Abu Ayyash told The Associated Press.

He said Americans applied a double standard by demanding Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait while accepting Israel’s continued occupation of territories won in the 1967 Middle East war.

″People are wondering why the Americans are suddenly Rambo in the Persian Gulf, and where was Rambo in 1967,″ Abu Ayyash said.

Faisal Husseini, another leading pro-PLO activist, said Saddam has given Palestinians new hope by linking Israeli and Iraqi withdrawals.

″If there is one way to solve our problem, it is through Saddam’s initiative. It would solve all problems of international legitimacy in the area,″ Husseini said.

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Many Palestinians said the Persian Gulf crisis is the final blow to efforts by Secretary of State James A. Baker III to broker peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Husseini once tentatively backed the Baker plan, which called for preliminary talks in Cairo to discuss an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to hold elections in the occupied lands.

But he said Shamir’s refusal to accept the Baker plan has forced the Palestinians to give up.

The Palestinians’ support for Saddam, meanwhile, closed one of the few channels of communication between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli doves from the Labor Party, led by elder statesman Abba Eban, decided Sunday to suspend all meetings with Husseini and other leaders until the Palestinians denounce Saddam.

″My colleagues and I cannot possibly have a fruitful discussion with Palestinians who applaud the brutality of Saddam,″ Eban said in a telephone interview.

Doves from Labor and other left-wing parties have been meeting regularly with Palestinian leaders to find common ground for peace negotiations.

Officials in Shamir’s government said they were not surprised by the Palestinians’ pro-Saddam stance.

Shamir’s government views the new Palestinian militancy as proof the PLO cannot be a partner in negotiations. It also reduces U.S. pressure on Israel to launch peace talks.

Among the Palestinians, meanwhile, there were only a few voices warning against support for Saddam.

″The Palestinians are now sitting in Saddam’s boat. If the boat sinks, you can say goodbye to the Palestinians,″ said Zuhair Dubi, a respected pro-PLO journalist and mosque preacher from Nablus. ″A defeat of Saddam will set the Palestinian cause back for decades.″

Palestinian economist Hisham Al Khatib warned that the wealthy gulf states, angered by the Palestinian position, may fire many of the estimated 800,000 Palestinians working there, and throw them out.

Hundreds of Palestinians, who were vacationing in the West Bank at the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, have already been barred from returning to their jobs in Saudi Arabia, Abu Ayyash said.

Palestinian workers in the gulf send about $250 million a year to relatives in the West Bank and Gaza. If the funds dry up, it would be a serious blow to the Palestinian economy, already badly shaken by the uprising.

But the warnings are not dampening the euphoria, which has quickly assumed religious overtones.

Moslem fundamentalist groups have stirred up emotions by calling for a jihad, or holy war, against U.S. forces deployed in Saudi Arabia. The Moslems compare the Americans to the Christian Crusaders who invaded the Holy Land in the 11th through 14th centuries before being defeated by the Arabs.

″We call on Iraq to attack the heart of Tel Aviv if Iraq is attacked by the Western crusaders,″ said a leaflet distributed Monday in the Gaza Strip by the fundamentalist group Hamas.

The Islamic Supreme Council, the highest Moslem authority in Jerusalem and the occupied lands, called on all Arabs to send money and weapons to Iraq to fight the ″U.S. conspiracy against Islam.″