posted on Mar, 20 2003 @ 12:58 PM
Palestinians hail Saddam, burn U.S. flags in Gaza protest
By Haaretz Service and Reuters
Hundreds of schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip Thursday hailed Saddam Hussein and protested against the American assault on Iraq, as strong condemnation
of the U.S. action was heard as across the Muslim Middle East.
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun early Thursday, about 700
Palestinians, most of them schoolchildren, waved Iraqi flags and posters of Saddam Hussein and burned two U.S. flags after the attack in Iraq.
Among the slogans they shouted were "Death to America, death to Bush," and "We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for Saddam."
Word of the U.S. attack came as the Egyptian faithful were responding to the first of five daily Muslim prayers. Some worshippers gathering at mosques
in the capital an hour or so before the sun rose said they had been up watching the news on television.
"God, you are almighty, you are capable of turning this [war] against" the
Americans, said Bashir el-Afesh as he finished his prayers in Cairo.
Kamal Abou Ayta, an Egyptian political activist who has organized anti-war
protests in Cairo, called the attack "illegitimate."
"I believe that American soldiers whenever they step on Iraqi soil, they will
be defeated," Abou Ayta said in an interview. "I am sure of that."
Egyptian newspapers planned extra editions Thursday. In the Lebanese capital, papers pushed back deadlines to include war news and appeared on
Early morning anti-war protests where reported at Cairo University and
Al-Azhar University - at the latter, a venerable Islamic institution in Cairo,
students chanted: "Patience, patience, oh Bush, tomorrow the Muslims will dig your grave."
Shortly after the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, where the U.S. war command center is located, urged Americans to avoid crowds and
demonstrations as part of "prudent steps to ensure their personal safety in the coming days."
In Iran, the nation's top diplomat called America's military attack on Iraq "unjustifiable and illegitimate," and elsewhere Arabs angry at what
they saw as an assault on fellow Arabs predicted the United States would ultimately be defeated.
After fighting an eight-year war against Iraq, Iran is no friend of Saddam.
But Iran fears that if the United States topples Saddam and replaces him with an administration of its choosing, Washington's influence in the region
will grow. Iran and the United States have been estranged since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"American military operations on Iraq are unjustifiable and illegitimate,"
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as saying.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not enter into action to the benefit of either side," Kharrazi said, adding he was concerned about the authority
of the United Nations being undermined after the United States attacked despite opposition from other members of the U.N. Security Council.
"America's continued disregard of collective wisdom will completely destroy the valuable achievements made over half a century by nations and
governments in trying to institutionalize cooperation for peace and security," Kharrazi said.
Mohammed Sadeq, a former Iranian Culture Ministry adviser allied with the
country's reformist camp, accused the United States of attacking to take
"control of Iraq's energy resources and to fan sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the region."
Iran closed its borders with Iraq shortly after the U.S.-led attack began, Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad Hosseini was quoted as telling IRNA.
Hosseini added that so far no refugees had been sighted near the border and reiterated an earlier announcement that Iran would aid any Iraqis fleeing
the war on the Iraqi side of the border rather than letting them cross into Iran.
Iraqi exiles were notable exceptions to the pan-Muslim condemnation. Exile Faisal Fikri called the attack "the moment I have been waiting for all my
life: to see the despot gone." Fikri had switched from channel to channel through the night to watch for news of the attack on television in his
small apartment in the Egyptian capital.
Fikri left Iraq in 1970 shortly after President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party came to power. At the time, Fikri had been accused of plotting with
other opposition figures against the new regime.