- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

From combined dispatches
BAGHDAD Immediate popular reaction in Baghdad yesterday to the loss of the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew including the first Israeli in space was that it was God's retribution.
"We are happy that it broke up," said government employee Abdul Jabbar al-Quraishi.
"God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us," he said.
Iraqis are braced for a U.S.-led war to rid their country of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons it may possess. Iraq denies it has such weapons.
Car mechanic Mohammed Jaber al-Tamini noted that Israeli air force Col. Ilan Ramon was among the dead when the shuttle broke up over the southwestern United States 16 minutes before its scheduled landing.
Col. Ramon, a 48-year-old Israeli astronaut, was a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force. He was the youngest pilot in a team that bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. Israel said the reactor was intended to develop nuclear weapons.
"Israel launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any reason, now time has come and God has retaliated to their aggression," Mr. al-Tamini said.
There were no such signs of jubilation about the shuttle disaster in any of the Palestinian territories. The official response from the Palestinians was one of condolence.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority "offer their condolences to the six American families and the Israeli family who lost their loved ones in the catastrophe," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and spokesman.
Mr. Erekat said Mr. Arafat had sent President Bush a message of condolences about the loss of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's shuttle. The United States, Israel's closest ally, is the chief Middle East peace broker.
Russia, the world's other major space power, sent its condolences to Washington, but said the disaster would not affect the launch of a supply rocket to the orbiting International Space Station today.
The seven members of Columbia's crew had "given their lives to conquering the dangers of space in the name of peace, science and progress of civilization," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II prayed for the dead astronauts during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. He had received the news of the disaster with great pain shortly before the Mass, Vatican sources said.
The leaders of Germany and France, at odds with the United States about its hard-line attitude on the Iraqi crisis, sent their condolences to the United States and Israel.
"In the name of the French people, forever a friend to the American people, I express to you the profound emotion and feeling of solidarity in the ordeal that all my compatriots are feeling," French President Jacques Chirac said in a letter to Mr. Bush.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in a letter, paid tribute to the "courageous men and women" who died in the "terrible tragedy."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, just returned from Washington and a council of war with Mr. Bush about Iraq, wrote to the U.S. leader and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressing sorrow at the disaster.
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer added his "regret and sadness" at the news.
"The seven astronauts on board were accomplished women and men of great courage who put their extraordinary skills and knowledge to the service of humankind," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in a statement. "Each one was a hero. Their contribution to science and space exploration will never be forgotten."

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