Saddams demise boosts Palestinians resolve to fight

JERUSALEM — Leaders of various Palestinian groups said April 10 they will escalate the fight against Israel following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The threats came as many Palestinians continued to express deep disappointment at the defeat of the Iraqi army, saying they still don't understand what went wrong in Baghdad. In some places, Palestinians were seen removing posters of Saddam Hussein from the streets and public buildings. In Ramallah, a shopkeeper wept as he spat on a colorful photograph of the deposed Iraqi president. "He is a traitor, he doesn't deserve our support," he shouted as passersby stopped to watch him.

"There's a big mystery and a big secret surrounding the Iraqi surrender to the U.S., Britain and Israel," said Fuad Abu Hijleh, a respected Palestinian political analyst. "We will wait to see what really happened there, how the invasion tanks managed to take positions on bridges and highways without being attacked by at least one Republican Gaurd rocket.

"The Americans, British and Israelis have reached Baghdad, and I believe they will succeed in achieving there what they failed in getting here in Palestine. They will now appoint a new [Afghanistan leader Hamid] Karzai in Iraq.

"The Arabs had one case, that of Palestine, and one occupation, the Israeli occupation. However, this morning the Arabs woke up to a new case and new occupation. Now we have a second Palestine in Iraq," Abu Hijleh said.

A cartoon in the Palestinian Authority's daily Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda reflected more than anything else the somber mood among many Palestinians: an Arab man, with tears streaming from his eyes, hoisting a black flag that carries the label Baghdad.

Palestinian columnist Adli Sadeq heaped praise on Saddam, saying "despite some reports that he struck a deal for himself, his family, and some of his close aides" enabling [them] to leave Iraq unharmed… "the man tried his best and did all what he could."

Writing in al-Hayat, Sadeq said, "Saddam was a thorn in the eye of the imperialists, and we will not change our mind about him, though we know that he made some mistakes, like other great leaders who ruled difficult societies."

Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian daily, described the collapse of Baghdad as a nakba (catastrophe). "This is not going to be the last nakba," it said in an editorial. "The Anglo-American victory will open the colonialists' appetite to devour more Arab capitals. This nakba is added to a series of disasters that have plagued the Arabs and Muslims over the past century. Perhaps this latest disaster will bring about a genuine awakening of the Arabs and Muslims."

The leader of the Syrian-backed Islamic Jihad organization in the Gaza Strip, Abdallah al-Shami, described the collapse of Saddam as an "earthquake." He said the war in Iraq would only enhance his group's determination to continue terrorist attacks against Israel. "What has happened surprised and shocked us," he said.

"We expected the Iraqi people to resist longer, particularly in view of the fact that the aggressors are the Americans who want to redraw the map of the whole region," Shami said. "What we discovered was that most of the Iraqi people took a neutral stance in the war, which the isolated Iraqi regime fought alone with the U.S. forces. This showed the extent of the weakness of Saddam's regime in front of this force and explains its collapse."

Shami said the sadness and despair on the faces of Palestinians were evident while they were walking in the streets. But, he added, this will not deter the Palestinian people from pursuing the option of "resistance."

Islamic Jihad was one of two Palestinian groups that dispatched volunteers to Iraq to fight against the American and British forces. The other group is Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah, which sent hundreds of its men from Lebanon and Syria on suicide missions against the American and British soldiers.

Fatah's top West Bank operative, Hussein al-Sheikh, also expressed his great disappointment at the collapse of the Saddam regime. He and many Palestinians said they could not understand how a city like Baghdad surrendered almost instantly, while the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been tirelessly fighting against Israel for more than two years.

"This makes us proud of ourselves as people who have been resisting and fighting for 100 years," Sheikh said. "We are very sad to see an Arab capital falling so easily, while the small Jenin refugee camp, inhabited by a few thousand Palestinians with modest capabilities, resisted the massive Israeli war machine longer than Baghdad and inflicted more casualties on the enemy."

Like Shami, he too was keen to emphasize that the downfall of Saddam would not have a negative impact on the Palestinians' determination to continue the fight against Israel. On the contrary, Sheikh said, "This will bolster the fact that we are on the right direction. We are proud to constitute the crown of resistance and revolution for this nation."

Hamas, which also expressed shock at events in Baghdad, vowed to step up attacks on Israel.