- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

Marchers all over the Arab region on Saturday joined worldwide rallies against the prospect of war in Iraq, undeterred by rainy conditions and in some cities raising the Iraqi flag for the first time in 20 years.

One of the largest crowds flowed into the Syrian capital Damascus. The demonstrators, estimated at more than 300,000, marched from the Hijaz station in central Damascus to the People's Council to decry both U.S. threats of military action in Iraq and Israeli actions against the Palestinians.

Protestors shouted: "All Arab people support Baghdad and struggle against terrorism" and "Down Down U.S.A., we don't fear the CIA." Others burned Israeli and U.S. flags while another was cloaked in a black outfit, a ferocious mask and a U.S. hat while holding an effigy of oil barrel.

"For the sake of oil, the new Nazis are depriving our children of their dream," one banner read. "No to U.S. terrorism. No for the invasion of Iraq and yes to U.N.


Some young demonstrators called for the jihad, or holy struggle, against the United States if it decided to go ahead with its war plans against Baghdad.

"Iraq will be bombed and we are here just watching," said 20-year-old Ahmed Saleh. "Let them (Arab leaders) open the borders as we want to participate in the battle against the U.S. and defend Iraq."

The protestors waved hundreds of Syrian flags as well as flags of Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular

Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Iraqi flags also appeared in the Damascus streets for the first time in 20 years, when Syria and Iraq severed ties because of a wave of bombings in Syria blamed on


Syria, which restored economic ties with Baghdad in 1997 but has so far refrained from any political normalization, strongly oppose U.S. war on Iraq and expressed fears of possible widespread chaos and forced changes in the region.

Salim Salem, 30, told United Press International that Arab countries needed to join hands against the possible U.S. attack on Iraq because "it will be soon the turn of Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia."

Among some of the slogans and speeches was praise for the late Egyptian leader and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt's current president, Hosni Mubarak, was dubbed "an Israeli pig agent."

Human Rights Watch released a report Friday that accused the Egyptian government of arresting citizens who participated in antiwar demonstrations. According to the New York-based advocacy group, prominent activists such as film producer Sabri al-Sammak have been detained and kept uncharged in solitary confinement under emergency laws passed by the Egyptian government.

In Jordan, about 10,000 demonstrators marched under pouring rain in the Jordanian capital, Amman, protesting U.S. threats of war and demanding the closure of the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Arab countries.

Organized by a coalition of 13 opposition parties, led by the Islamic Action Front and including leftist and pan-Arab nationalist groups, the protestors walked for 2 kilometers (about a mile) in the commercial district of Shmeisani towards the U.N. building.

They carried portraits of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Jordan's King Abdullah II and waved Jordanian, Palestinian and Iraqi flags, as well as banners denouncing the United States and Israel, declaring: "No to war on Iraq."

Surrounded by hundreds of riot police and plain-clothed security officers, the protesters chanted: "Oh Saddam, be stubborn, we will sacrifice ourselves for Baghdad," "No to the American and Zionist embassies on Arab land," and "Get the foreign armies out, Baghdad, we are all your soldiers."

Organizers said they had wanted to march towards the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in the affluent district of Abdoun, but the government would not issue the permit for the demonstration except within the specified area of Shmeisani.

The government banned all demonstrations without prior permission in October 2000, shortly after the eruption of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since then, security forces have violently broken up a series of protests. But the 90-minute demonstration on Saturday ended peacefully.

Thousands of homes in Jordan turned off their lights and electric appliances and lit candles for one hour on Friday night to protest against the U.S. military deployments in the region and a possible war on Iraq, Jordan's eastern neighbor and main trading partner.

The vigil was in response to a call by the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and the largest opposition party in the kingdom.

Similar numbers turned out to march in Beirut, Lebanon's capital. An estimated 12,000 and 15,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, some with children in tow, flocked from various areas of Beirut and gathered in front of the U.N. house in the city center.

They raised banners denouncing the United States and Israel and waved Iraqi, Palestinian, French and German flags. Paris and Bonn have been staunchly opposing Washington in its war plans against Iraq. Some also waved pictures of Saddam.

Lebanon's former Prime Minister Selim Hoss said in a speech on behalf of the demonstrators that it was possible to stop the U.S. war on Iraq by adopting a firm Arab position at the upcoming Arab emergency summit due in Cairo next week.

Hoss said Iraqi should also implement U.N. resolutions to avert the war and "this requires that the Arab summit sends a delegation to Baghdad to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."

"This is a war for oil," he told the crowd, and accused the United States of trying to impose its hegemony on the region.

In Baghdad itself, thousands of Iraqis filled the streets Saturday to protest both U.S. and British military deployments in the region and threats to invade Iraq.

Angry demonstrators gathered on the two banks of the Tigris River in the Iraqi capital, with hundreds waving Russian-made Kalashnikov automatic rifles and carrying banners denouncing the United States and Britain. Others marched with banners calling on the people of the world to support Iraq against the U.S.-British stance or waved Iraqi and Palestinian flags.

Protesters chanted anti-war slogans and denounced the U.S. and British governments as the "evil coalition." Among them were peace activists from around the world, many of whom wore T-shirts reading "human shields." The activists began arriving in Iraq last week from the United States, Europe and Asia, especially Japan, to act as human shields around hospitals, schools and other facilities in the event of military action.


(Thanaa Imam reported from Damascus, Dalal Saoud from Beirut, Sana Abdallah from Amman and Ghassan Al-Kadi from Baghdad.)

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