On the eve of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's visit to the
region, Palestinians sought to yank the welcome mat Friday, staging
demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein.
The protests sparked numerous clashes between Palestinians and Israeli
security forces, leaving at least one Palestinian dead and dozens
Fighting was especially intense in the Gaza Strip, where Powell will
meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Sunday to
discuss what peacemaking role the U.S. should play in talks between
Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
In Gaza, Palestinians fired mortar shells from two police posts toward
the Jewish settlements of Dugit and Aley Sinai. No settlers were injured.
In retaliation, the Israeli army shelled two Palestinian police posts,
then closed the major thoroughfare in Gaza, in effect splitting in two
the 140-square-mile swath of sand that is home to more than 1 million
Palestinians and a few thousand Jewish settlers.
After the roadway was closed, many Palestinians--including a bride in
her wedding gown--abandoned their cars and walked along a beach to get
around the two tanks and two jeeps blocking the road that connects north
and south Gaza.
Israeli security forces told state radio that they had hoped that
Arafat and his Palestinian Authority would have controlled the number of
violent clashes in the two days before Powell's visit.
But protesters continued with what has become a Friday ritual: noon
prayers followed by marches and clashes with soldiers at Israeli
On this Friday, Hussein and the recent bombings of Iraqi targets by
U.S. and British jets were on the minds on many demonstrators.
"Saddam, put your armies on the water," chanted young demonstrators
from the radical Islamic group Hamas, "and let your weapons feed on the
blood of Zionists."
About 2,000 people marched to Manara Square in downtown Ramallah, in
the West Bank, where they cheered as demonstrators set ablaze a paper
model of an Iraqi Scud missile with the photographs of Powell, President
Bush and outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
"Saddam is the most honest Arab leader," said 30-year-old Jamileh
Khatib, who was among dozens of marchers hoisting Iraqi flags. "He is the
only Arab leader to shock Israel. The barbaric bombing of Iraq will not
The outpouring of support for the Iraqi leader shows how times have
changed in the West Bank and Gaza, where nearly 3 million Palestinians
Slightly more than two years ago, Arafat's security forces arrested
opposition politicians, clamped down on journalists and quelled protests
in the wake of similar airstrikes against Iraq. That was at a time when
Arafat was trying to improve ties with Washington in an effort to achieve
an independent Palestinian state.
But since the Palestinian uprising broke out in late September,
Hussein has become an increasingly admired figure, funneling millions of
dollars to families of the more than 350 Palestinians who have been
killed in clashes.
On Friday, Arafat's police stopped traffic, allowing protesters to
burn U.S. flags in the middle of the street in Ramallah. In front of the
Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian parliament in Gaza,
protester Ahmed Majid Hamed torched a U.S. flag, to the delight of
hundreds of demonstrators.
"Powell's visit is meaningless," said Hamed, a newlywed 20-year-old
Gazan. "They are just coming and going, and nothing has changed. We have
never seen anything positive from their side."
Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Arafat's Fatah movement who was present
at the Ramallah demonstration, said the outpouring of support for Hussein
"Saddam has become a symbol" of resistance against Israel, he said,
"but the people are really expressing support for the Iraqi people, who
are the true victims of these bombings."
After the demonstration in Manara Square, Barghouti and leaders of
other Palestinian factions marched to the Ayoush junction in north
Ramallah, where they watched Palestinian youths confront Israeli
In an empty lot near the checkpoint, young boys carrying small bags of
stones warmed up like pitchers in a bullpen. Later, they marched to the
checkpoint, unleashing their rocks at Israeli soldiers in parked army
The soldiers responded with tear gas, then rubber-coated steel
bullets, and later standard ammunition. Paramedics from wailing
ambulances would swoop and pick up the injured youths, only to repeat the
scene over and over.
Palestinian hospital officials also reported that Israeli soldiers
shot and killed a 21-year-old Palestinian man, Mohammed Hasan Mousa,
during a clash in a West Bank village near Bethlehem. Mousa was among
about 200 Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the village
when he was shot in the chest, a hospital spokesman said.
The Israeli army said its troops fired rubber-coated metal bullets at
a crowd of Palestinian stone throwers outside the village. An army
spokesman denied that soldiers were involved in any shooting inside the
* * *
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson and special correspondents Maher
Abukhater in Jerusalem and Fayed abu Shamallah in Gaza contributed to
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times