Leaders of a pro-Iraq Palestinian group handed out the checks after delivering fiery speeches extolling the Iraqi president’s virtues to hundreds of relatives of “martyrs” packed into a dingy YMCA hall in Gaza City.
Officials of the Palestinian Arab Liberation Front staging the ceremony said Saddam had now paid $35 million to support the kin of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since militants rose up against Israel there 29 months ago.
“Saddam Hussein considers those who die in martyrdom attacks as people who have won the highest degree of martyrdom,” an official of the Arab Liberation Front said.
“Iraq and Palestine are in one trench. Saddam is a hero,” said a banner over a mural of Saddam and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who sided with Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War against U.S.-led forces but has kept a low profile this time.
A family of a Palestinian suicide bomber received a check for $25,000 and 22 families of militants killed in fighting or of civilians killed during Israeli army offensives, incursions or air strikes got $10,000 each.
Bereaved family members, some of them weeping, chanted slogans in support of Iraq as the United States and Britain press for a U.N. Security Council ultimatum ordering Baghdad to fulfil disarmament demands by March 17 or face attack.
Palestinians under Israeli occupation rallied in support of Saddam during the Gulf War, some cheering when Iraqi Scud missiles crashed into Israeli coastal cities.
During the current uprising, Palestinian militants have staged rallies in support of Iraq against the United States.
Arafat urged the international community in a speech to parliament on Tuesday to prevent war against Iraq and give more time for weapon inspectors to say determine whether Baghdad remained in violation of Security Council disarmament edicts.
ISRAEL ACCUSES SADDAM OF FUNDING “TERROR”
Israel, which strongly favor that its guardian ally the United States take military to remove Saddam, have said that Saddam’s funding for the Palestinian uprising encourages “terror.”
But Palestinians say the money is used to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel and raise the children of those killed in the revolt.
“Saddam supports the families of the martyrs, not support terrorism. It is a shame that Arabs stand silent as America prepares to occupy Iraq,” said Ahmed Sabah, 69, whose son was killed by an Israeli missile strike in December last year.
Israel said Sabah’s son Mustafa was behind bomb attacks on three Israeli tanks which killed seven soldiers last year.
Some families said they would use the money they got to repair houses damaged or destroyed in Israeli incursions, others would use it to raise the children of dead relatives.
“America is the chief terrorist state and Israel is its deputy and representative in the Middle East,” said Sabri Salama, a relative of two Palestinian teenagers killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in January.
Ibrahim al-Za’anin, a leader of the Arab Liberation Front, hoped Wednesday’s ceremony to distribute Iraqi funds to Palestinian families would not be the last.