Stranded Palestinians spark concern

The UN has expressed concern about 89 Palestinians, nearly half of them children, who fled from Baghdad and are stuck in a desert strip between Iraq and Jordan since Sunday.

    Many Iraqis resented privileges given by Saddam to Palestinians

    The group, which includes two elderly people and three with medical problems, is in an "extremely precarious situation" in the harsh desert climate, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

    "We understand the group has little shelter and meagre food supplies. UNHCR's ability to protect and assist these refugees is extremely difficult because of our limited access to the border area," spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing.

    Witnesses said the Jordanian authorities, fearful of a large influx from among the 34,000 Palestinian refugees estimated to be living in Iraq, closed the border on Sunday after a busload of Palestinians arrived.

    Hundreds of Iranian Kurds and Palestinians lived in no man's land for more than two years after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

    The camp was closed in May 2005.

    The UNHCR said on Tuesday about 200 Iranian Kurds remained on the Iraqi side of the desert, but it was difficult to reach them.

    Fear of killings

    The Palestinians said the killings of fellow community members in Baghdad had forced them to flee.

    "We left Baghdad because the entire security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we couldn't stay," said Ihab Tayem, one of the stranded Palestinians.

    Two members of the US-based Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad, Peggy Gish and Beth Pyles, accompanied the group in an attempt to cross into Jordan late on Saturday.

    Jordan fears an influx of
    Palestinian refugees from Iraq

    Gish, who is now in Amman, said Jordanian border officials refused the Palestinians entry, demanding they should return to Iraq.

    Jordan has said it will not take any refugees from Iraq, fearing another exodus to a country already burdened by Palestinians displaced in wars with Israel.

    Tayem, contacted by The Associated Press in the desert strip said at least 15 Palestinians had recently been killed in Baghdad, but "we don't know who is behind the slayings. We can't accuse anybody".

    Many of Iraq's Shias and Kurds, the two communities most oppressed under Saddam, view the Palestinians remaining in Iraq as sympathetic to the armed campaign wracking the country for nearly three years.

    Freezing conditions

    Tayem, who spoke by telephone, is serving as a spokesman for the stranded group, which includes his wife, their 18-month-old child and 15 other families.

    He said the group has only blankets for protection against the freezing desert temperature at night.

    "I've talked to the Red Cross in Amman who promised to do something to help us, but so far nothing has happened. Our food and water are quickly running out," Tayem said.

    "We left Baghdad because the entire security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we couldn't stay"

    Ihab Tayem,
    stranded Palestinian

    Gish, of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, said she had no independent confirmation the Palestinians were targeted in Iraq, but added that her group was collecting testimonies from the Palestinians who had had family members killed recently.

    Iraq's toppled leader Saddam Hussein, provided Palestinians living in Iraq with some privileges, like free housing, state stipends and government jobs.

    The generosity he showed them enraged many Iraqis, who had to cope with the hardships of nearly 13 years of UN sanctions, which ended after Saddam's 2003 overthrow.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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