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Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Saddam gives money to families of slain Palestinian militants

March 13, 2003

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— Mohammed Akram Nakhalla, a Palestinian militant, died fighting Israeli soldiers when they entered this city two months ago. Wednesday, his relatives claimed their reward.

In a ceremony at a YMCA hall, the leader of a marginal pro-Iraq group called the Arab Liberation Front gave the gunman's brother, Samir, a kiss on each cheek, a handshake and a certificate that read, "A generous gift from President Saddam Hussein to the family of the martyr of the al-Aqsa Initifada."

Stapled to the document was a check drawn from the Gaza branch of the Cairo-Amman Bank for $10,000, an astounding amount in a poverty-stricken city where the World Bank estimates more than half the population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day.

"I feel that (Saddam) understands the situation that the Palestinians are in," said Nakhalla, 27, who accepted on behalf of several family members. Referring to the Israeli army's curfews, sieges and house demolitions, he said, "The Americans are about to do to him the same thing that the Israelis are doing to us."

Nakhalla was one of 22 people who received checks totaling $235,000 during a raucous ceremony in a dingy, overcrowded room packed with mothers, wives and children holding photos of dead relatives and others shouting the rallying cry, "Our blood, our souls, we sacrifice for Palestine."

The rented hall was decorated with Saddam's Ba'ath Party flags, a banner proclaiming, "Iraq and Palestine are in the same trench" and a 6-foot high poster with the images of Saddam and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat superimposed alongside Jerusalem's golden Dome of the Rock.

There were the obligatory lengthy speeches extolling "the great Saddam Hussein" and condemning what one leader labeled the "triangle of evil" -- Britain, the United States and Israel. Another speaker assured the audience that Iraq and the Palestinians would persevere. "We have one land," he said to thunderous applause. "We will have one victory."

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