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April 05, 2003

Graves of Iraqi fighters potent symbol of ties with Palestinians
This AP piece a sharp reminder of the connection between Iraq and the Palestinians in the prolonged struggle against Israel

JENIN, West Bank (AP) -- At a roadside cemetery in the West Bank, in the midst of thistles and pictures honoring Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the graves of 53 Iraqis stand as potent reminders of the Arab nation's involvement in the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

In Jenin, Iraqi ties run deep. In 1948 Iraqi troops rushed there to help fight off Israeli soldiers who had taken temporary control of the town. After a series of deadly battles that killed dozens of Iraqis, the town was returned to Arab control.

A more recent tie between Iraq and Jenin came last year when Saddam donated more than $2 million to families who lost homes during an 11-day standoff that destroyed pockets of the town and killed 23 Israeli troops and 52 Palestinians.

"The elders of this town all remember what the Iraqis did for us," said Fakhri Turkman, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a local historian. "And it's clear that what is happening today in Iraq is a picture of Palestine and of our struggle."

With the U.S.-led strike against Iraq approaching its third week, residents of Jenin and other towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have rallied behind Saddam, holding mass demonstrations and blood drives for the Iraqis. On Thursday, Jenin residents commemorated the one-year anniversary of the 11-day battle with Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp by holding a pro-Iraq and Saddam rally.

Emotionally, many Palestinians have sided with Iraq but there is fear among some that after the war is over, their support for Saddam will come back to haunt them. [more]