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Palestinians Angered by Saddam Execution


Much of the Arab world reacted with anger at the death of Saddam. Emotions are particularly high among Palestinians, many of whom see Saddam as a hero for supporting their cause and standing up to the U.S. and Israel. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

ERIC WESTERVELT: In the densely packed al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, the hilly side streets today are running red with sheep blood as families slaughter sleep in the street to mark the start of the four-day Eid ul-Adha feast and holiday. With a thick tree trunk as chopping block, Sheikh Abu Khalid(ph)hacks at a sheep carcass with a cleaver. He's been working since dawn and he says all the talk has been about Saddam. Abu Khalid calls the timing of the Iraqi dictator's killing an affront to all Muslims.


ABU KHALID: (Through translator) They slaughtered Saddam on the Eid. This is a message to all Muslims. The message is that Bush and the Jews don't care about Muslims.

WESTERVELT: Many Palestinians revere Saddam for his financial support for the families of suicide bombers and others killed fighting Israel and for his Scud missile attacks on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Hazam Muhammad(ph) is an unemployed laborer in the refugee camp.

HAZAM MUHAMMAD: (Through translator) Every noble Arab and Palestinian is hurt by this death because Saddam stood by the Palestinians and supported us like no other leader. We should mourn his death for one year.

WESTERVELT: Nearby, 30-year-old Ali Hussein(ph) is helping to package up the freshly cut holiday meat into plastic bags for distribution to the poor. He says he used to live in Baghdad and worked in the PLO office there. His coat splattered with sheep blood, Hussein says the trial and execution were Iraqi in name only.

ALI HUSSEIN: (Through translator) This had nothing to do with Iraqi justice. This was all an American decision by an occupation army that wants to control Arab resources, and it's hypocrisy. The Americans used to support Saddam and now they decide to kill him.


WESTERVELT: Abdul Haleem Abdul Hameed(ph), a Sunni Arab, walks through the refugee camp's muddy streets on his way to pray at a local mosque. He says he's upset at the Saddam news and by the pictures of the former leader with a noose around his neck. But pressed about Saddam's crimes against humanity, the poison gas and the bloody repression of tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shia, Abdul Hameed's answer echoes the sentiment behind the brutal sectarian divide that's splintering Iraq.

ABDUL HAMEED: (Through translator) The Shiites are not believers. The Shiites are infidels. And whoever goes with them is an unbeliever too. The Shiites and Iranians are the ones killing the Palestinians in Iraq right now.

WESTERVELT: In the Gaza strip today, local leader Mushir al-Masri with the ruling Hamas movement called Saddam's execution quote, "proof of the criminal and terrorist American policy," end quote. For his part, Ramallah shopkeeper Hassam Hassam(ph) puts the blame on America's Arab allies.

HASSAM HASSAM: (Through translator) This is a big humiliation and it should be a humiliation for the other Arab leaders in our region because they have no honor, no dignity. They are just tools in the hands of America. Arab leaders like Mubarak in Egypt and the king of Jordan, all of them.

WESTERVELT: Then, turning away, Hassam says with disgust, their time will come, those leaders will get theirs. Eric Westervelt, NPR News in the al-Amari refugee camp, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.