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March 21, 2003

Hamas urges Iraqi suicide attacks

Thousands of Palestinians also voiced their anger over the U.S.-led war in Iraq by protesting across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some demonstrators urged Iraq to attack Tel Aviv -- as it did, with Scud missiles, during the 1991 Gulf war.

"Iraqis should prepare explosive belts and would-be martyrs (suicide bombers) to combat the U.S. occupiers," senior Hamas leader Abdel Aziz-al-Rantissi told Reuters in the Gaza Strip.

"The American aggressors, the American invaders are now on Iraqi soil, therefore, Iraqis must confront them with all possible means, including martyrdom (suicide) operations."

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign which has killed hundreds of Israelis since interim peace accords were signed in 1993.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the group's spiritual leader, later echoed Rantissi's call for suicide attacks and urged the Iraqi people "to destroy every tank, to kill every soldier."

The Islamic Jihad, another militant group that has carried out suicide bombings against Israelis, also took up the call.

"We urge all fighters...to advance in their explosive belts toward the invading forces, to blow up their blessed bodies amid the new aggressive crusader forces," it said in a statement sent to Reuters in Beirut.

IRAQI SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has given payments of $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers who have carried out attacks against Israel since a Palestinian uprising for statehood began in September 2000 after peace negotiations became deadlocked. the payouts have run into millions of dollars.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets on Friday, the second successive day of protests against the U.S-led war.

"Oh Saddam, oh beloved, strike, strike Tel Aviv," protesters chanted during a march by about 4,000 people in Gaza City.

Many demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and others carried portraits of Saddam. One slogan being chanted in Gaza demanded an Iraqi attack on Tel Aviv with chemical weapons.

Thirty-nine Scud missiles hit Israel during the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf war to oust Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait, all carried conventional warheads.

Palestinians also protested in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Bethlehem, and in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Those protests ended peacefully but Israeli police used teargas to break up a protest in Jerusalem by several dozen Palestinians who chanted: "With our blood and our souls we will redeem you Iraq." No one was hurt or detained, police said.

"It is a war between the unbelievers (the United States and Britain) and the Muslims in Iraq and everywhere. Silence is a sin," said Amin Saeed, 26, in Gaza City.

Hajj Hussein, an elderly Palestinian from Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, said: "I am saddened and shocked by the scenes of bombardment of Iraq. I feel it because our homes and camps are subject to similar attacks by the Jews here."

Um Adel, a woman holding an Iraqi flag in Gaza City, said: "Saddam is the only honest and heroic Arab leader. All the others are cowards and collaborators with the Americans."