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3,000 Refugees Protest in Mideast

Associated Press Writer

March 8, 2002, 4:05 PM EST
AMMAN, Jordan -- Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East protested escalating violence in the Palestinian territories on Friday as the 17-month-old conflict marked its bloodiest single day.
More than 40 Palestinians and Israelis were killed as fighting raged across the Gaza Strip and West Bank on Friday. Palestinian shooting and bombing attacks have intensified in the last week, and Israel has responded with tank and helicopter attacks.

Some 3,000 people demonstrated at three rallies in Amman, the Jordanian capital, including one in the Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp, where 2,000 protesters shouted anti-Israel slogans and denounced the "Arab silence" in supporting the Palestinian cause.

"No for a peace settlement!" and "bin Laden, bin Laden, hit Tel Aviv!" shouted the protesters in Al-Baqaa, located 15 miles west of Amman. Al-Baqaa is the largest of 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.

In another rally at the Jordanian University mosque, an official with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood Movement called on the Jordanian government to abolish the Arab nation's 1994 peace treaty with Israel "and reject normalization with the Zionist enemy."

"We call upon the government to militarize and arm the Jordanian people to defend themselves from (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's expansionist program," Humam Saeed said.

Another 300 people rallied at the Al-Wihdat refugee camp.
The past week has been the bloodiest since Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted in September 2000. The deaths came in a string of Palestinian shooting and bombing attacks on Israeli civilians, and intense Israeli retaliation, with tanks and helicopters often firing at populated Palestinian areas.

The increased violence comes as Western leaders, moderate Arab governments -- including Jordan and Egypt -- and the normally hard-line Syria show support for a Saudi land-for-peace proposal aimed at ending the Mideast conflict.

But there remains strong opposition to the plan in the streets, with many throughout the Arab world opposing any normalization of ties with Israel. The leaders of Iraq and Libya have also denounced the Saudi plan.

In Lebanon, about 2,000 Palestinian refugees in the country's largest camp shouted anti-Israel and anti-American slogans and praised terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

Sheik Jamal Hatab, the leading cleric at Ein el-Hilweh camp, criticized the Saudi proposal, saying in a Friday sermon that it only serves Sharon and falls in line with U.S. policy and interests.

The Ein el-Hilweh protest was organized by members of the militant Palestinian groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Asbat al-Ansar, which oppose peace with Israel.

In neighboring Syria, more than 500 Palestinians protested in the Yarmouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, and urged the Palestinian Authority to give weapons to Palestinians to help them fight the Israelis.

Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called for a "unified leadership of the Palestinian field forces to defend the (Palestinian) homeland until the occupation is defeated."

Some protesters waved Palestinian and Syrian flags and carried banners with slogans. One said "Yes for the right to return," a reference to the desire of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to lands they fled during the Israeli-Arab wars of 1948 or 1967.

Jordan, Syria and Lebanon host most of the 3.8 million refugee Palestinians and their descendants. Their right to return to their former homes has been a key issue in numerous attempts to resolve the conflict.

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press



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