- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD Thousands of Iraqis marched in the rain yesterday to protest U.S. and British air strikes, and Iraqi TV stations showed damaged houses and shops in a town where one man was killed when allied missiles hit nearby.

Palestinians also marched near Gaza City to protest the air strikes and to proclaim their affection for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who has threatened to create an army to march on Israel.

Friday night's strikes around Baghdad which killed two persons and wounded at least 20 have raised strong condemnations from Arab allies of the United States and affected the atmosphere just days before talks with the United Nations.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf is due to meet U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for two days starting Feb. 26 with a view to opening a new dialogue on weapons inspections and economic sanctions.

Saddam met yesterday with Minister of Military Industrialization Abdel-Tawab Mulla Huwaish and Lt. Gen. Shaheen Yassin Mohammed, commander of air defense units, according to the Iraqi News Agency.

"The meeting discussed improving means of defending the great Iraq and its steadfastness in order to protect the brave Iraqis from harm," said the agency without elaborating.

The news agency reported Saturday that Saddam ordered the training of about 300,000 volunteers for what he called the Al-Quds or Jerusalem army aiming to free Jerusalem from Israeli control.

"If little Bush considers his aggression a message to Iraq, then we have the answer, which is the formation of al-Quds army … ready for jihad and liberating Palestine," the official Iraqi daily Al-Thawra said in a front-page editorial yesterday.

Such rhetoric has reverberated in the West Bank and Gaza, where about 1,000 Palestinians protested yesterday to denounce the air strikes and express support for Saddam.

"Saddam, we wait for your rockets to hit Tel Aviv," the crowd shouted as they fired automatic rifles in the air. Saddam is "the leader who will liberate Palestine," one of the banners read.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement saying that Israelis had "no need to take any special steps" to protect against Iraqi retaliation, but that the government "continues to watch developments and is keeping closely in touch with the United States."

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh warned, however, that a renewed Western campaign against Iraq could radicalize the Palestinians and broaden the atmosphere of conflict in the Middle East.

Saddam launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf war and won enthusiastic support from Palestinians.

More than 2,000 people including Deputy Foreign Minister Nabil Najim took part in yesterday's protest in central Baghdad, and at least 1,000 others gathered across the city near the offices of the ruling Ba'ath party.

"This dangerous aggression shows how much the Americans and Britons hate Iraqis and do not respect any international law," Mr. Najim told the demonstrators. "This aggression must be condemned."

Popular Syrian film star Raghda, who flew to Baghdad on Saturday night, told the crowd: "Nothing could stop me from coming here. The people of Iraq and children of Iraq are in my heart."

Egypt, a key U.S. ally that rallied behind the drive to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait 10 years ago, sent Economy Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali and Public Sector Minister Mokhtar Khattab to Baghdad to show solidarity with Iraq.

"We are here to support the Iraqi people and promote economic and financial relations between our countries," Mr. Boutros-Ghali told reporters.

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