(photo credit: AP)
Palestinians on Thursday reacted with mixed feelings to the death of Jordanian-born arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a US air raid on his hideout in Iraq, while Hamas and Fatah leaders refused to comment publicly.
However, in the Gaza Strip Hamas issued a written statement saying it mourned the killing of the "martyr of the nation.
"With hearts full of faith, Hamas commends brother and fighter Abu Musab, who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign that targets the Arab homeland, starting in Iraq," the statement read.
On the streets of Ramallah, many Palestinians seemed indifferent to the news of al-Zarqawi's death. "We have our own problems to worry about," said shopkeeper Jamal Abu Khadra. "We don't really care about Zarqawi and Iraq."
Many residents said they were more concerned with the ongoing power struggle between the Hamas-led government and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.
Tensions are running high in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Abbas prepares to announce on Saturday a national referendum over a controversial document drafted by some Palestinian prisoners.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in various parts of the Gaza Strip on Thursday afternoon against Abbas's planned referendum, which has been condemned by Hamas as a conspiracy designed to topple the Hamas-led government. The protests were the largest of their kind and pose a serious challenge to Abbas.
Until recently, al-Zarqawi and his cohorts in al-Qaida were seen by many Palestinians as Muslim heroes fighting against US and European interests, especially in Iraq. But as al-Zarqawi's involvement in terror attacks on Arabs and Muslims became apparent, many Palestinians changed their mind and began referring to him as a dangerous terrorist.
Zarqawi was widely condemned by many Palestinians because of his responsibility for last November's three suicide attacks in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where several Palestinians were among those killed in the blasts. One of the Palestinian victims was Gen. Bashir Nafe, commander of the PA's Special Forces, who was sitting in the lobby of one of the hotels attacked by al-Zarqawi's suicide bombers. Following the attacks, some Palestinians published advertisements in the local media strongly condemning al-Zarqawi and calling for his execution.
Many Palestinians had also expressed outrage at the terrorist attacks that were carried out in Sinai over the past year and which resulted in the killing of dozens of Arabs and Muslims.
Most Palestinian news Web sites carried reports about al-Zarqawi's death without comment. However, chatters and readers appeared to be equally divided about his role and status. While many Palestinians supported al-Zarqawi's attacks on US troops in Iraq, others were clearly unhappy with the targeting of Iraqi civilians.
"To hell with you, Zarqawi," wrote a man who identified himself as Qais Zarqawi, on one of the Palestinian forums. "We hope there will be more strikes against the murderers and mad people. Iraq needs to return to its people, away from the terrorists and the American occupiers."
A reader, who identified himself as Zarqawi-Hater, wrote: "To all the murderers in Iraq - by God's will, the day will come when we will see all of you as prisoners or dead."
Another one commented: "I'm so happy to hear the good news that I feel I want to fly. Congratulations to the families of the victims of the Amman hotel bombings and all the innocent Iraqi civilians who were butchered by this mass murderer."
Responding to readers who hailed al-Zarqawi as a "martyr," a reader posted the following question on one of the sites: "Is the killing of people attending a wedding in Amman jihad [holy war] in your eyes? Damn him 1,000 times."
Although Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders refrained from commenting in public on al-Zarqawi's killing, many Islamic Web sites praised him as a holy warrior and hero.
Some sites dedicated considerable Web page space to allow Palestinians to grief over the death. "We are all Zarqawi," read a banner on top of a colorful portrait of al-Zarqawi posted on the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Forum Net. Many sites condemned Jordan's alleged role in the killing, accusing its government of collaboration with the "Crusaders, Shi'ites and all Iraqi traitors."