Palestinians flee from killings in Iraq

Jordan refuses their entry; Saddam had allowed Palestininans many privileges.

iraq violence 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
iraq violence 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Eighty-eight Palestinians stuck since Saturday in a no-man's desert strip between Jordan and Iraq said the killings of fellow community members in Baghdad have forced them to flee. "We left Baghdad because the entire security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we couldn't stay," said Ihab Tayem, one of the Palestinians stranded in the no-man's land.
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Peggy Gish and Beth Pyles, members of the US-based Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad, accompanied the group in an attempt to cross into Jordan late Saturday. Gish, who is now in Amman, said Jordanian border officials refused the Palestinians entry, demanding that they return to Iraq. Jordan has said it will not take any refugees from Iraq, fearing another exodus to a country already burdened by Palestinians displaced in wars with Israel within nearly 60 years. Tayem, contacted by The Associated Press in the no-man's land, said at least 15 Palestinians have recently been killed in Baghdad, but "we don't know who is behind the slayings; We can't accuse anybody." Tayem, who spoke by telephone, is serving as a spokesman for the stranded group, which includes his wife, their 11-year-old child and 15 other families in the desolate area. He said the group only has blankets for protection against freezing desert temperatures at night. "I've talked to the Red Cross in Amman who promised to do something to help us, but so far nothing has happened. Our food and water are quickly running out," Tayem said. Gish, of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, said she had no independent confirmation that Palestinians were targeted in Iraq, but added that her group was collecting testimonies from the Palestinians who have had family members killed recently. Iraq's ousted leader Saddam Hussein, who liked to be seen as a champion of Arab causes, provided Palestinians living in Iraq with some privileges, like free housing, state stipends and government jobs. The largesse he showed them enraged many Iraqis, who had to cope with the deprivations of nearly 13 years of UN sanctions, which ended after Saddam's 2003 overthrow. There are no exact figures for the number of Palestinians who lived in Iraq before the fall of Saddam's regime, but some estimates put the number at about 50,000. Scores of Iraqis attacked Palestinian homes in Baghdad in the wake of Saddam's overthrow, taking over their homes or looting their properties. That wave of attacks forced many of them to flee the country or go into hiding. Many of Iraq's Shi'ites and Kurds, the two communities most oppressed under Saddam, view the Palestinians remaining in Iraq now as sympathetic to the Sunni-dominated insurgency wracking the country for nearly three years.