- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

JENIN, West Bank One of the few smiles in Jenin, the site of the biggest battle between Israelis and Palestinians last month, is on the face of Mahmoud Besharat, the man who is handing out millions of dollars of largesse from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Besharat has just started distributing checks of $25,000 each to the hundreds of people whose homes in the Jenin refugee camp were destroyed by the Israeli army in April. He is budgeting for a total expenditure of $7.3 million, a vast sum for this dirt-poor refugee camp.
In the offices of the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), a Palestinian group funded by Iraq and loyal to Saddam, Mr. Besharat is besieged by families seeking their money.
"People embrace me on the street," said Mr. Besharat, the ALF representative for the northern West Bank. "But they know that it is not my money but a gift from Saddam Hussein."
Saddam's bounty is all the more astonishing as refugee families will not have to use it to rebuild their homes. The United Nations is taking care of that expense and is providing schools, clinics and social services for the refugees, thanks to a promise of $25 million from the United Arab Emirates.
"The Iraqi money is a gift, no more than that. They can put the money in their back pockets or build another house," said Mr. Besharat.
Saddam's award for losing a home applies only to the Jenin refugee camp, in honor of the camp's status in Palestinian lore as the "citadel of steadfastness." About 60 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers died during a battle in the narrow alleys, which ended with the army bulldozing about 140 houses in the middle of the camp.
ALF also is doling out generous bounties for the dead and injured in the 20-month intifada.
Payments are on a strict scale: $500 for a wound, $950 for disablement, $9,500 for death as a "martyr" and $25,000 for a suicide bomber.
The largesse comes at a time when Iraq and other Arab countries are complaining of widespread poverty in Iraq, with hospitals running short of supplies and medicine and children suffering and dying from malnutrition.
The hardship is blamed on U.N. economic sanctions imposed after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But U.S. officials point out that Saddam has been able to find ample funds to rebuild his palaces and to pay his elite Republican Guards and other allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has accused Iraq of fomenting the recent wave of suicide bombings, which has traumatized Israel and shocked the world.
Mr. Besharat does not disagree.
"You would have to ask President Saddam why he is being so generous. But he is a revolutionary and he wants this distinguished struggle, the intifada, to continue," he said.


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