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Palestinian War Fears Revolve Around Israel, Not Iraq

January 11, 1991

BETHLEHEM, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Surveying his store’s half-empty shelves, Karim Abdul Fatah said it was more than the recent frenzied buying that convinces him Palestinians fear war may soon break out.

″What’s amazing is they are not even bargaining over prices,″ he said, shaking his head at the lack of characteristic Arab haggling.

Like the Israelis, the Palestinians are taking seriously Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s threats to attack Israel in the event of war with the U.S.-led force in the Persian Gulf.

But the Palestinians say they are not afraid of Iraq. Most think that if Saddam does strike at Israel, his bombs and missiles will hit inside the Jewish state, not in the occupied lands.

Instead, they are afraid of Israel. They wonder what Israel’s reaction will be regarding the 1.7 million Palestinians who live in the territories - many of whom have delighted in Saddam’s threats - once war breaks out.

Among the shoppers who thronged Bethlehem’s market on Thursday, many expressed fears that the West Bank and Gaza Strip might be sealed off and all residents confined to their homes.

Palestinian leaders voiced a darker fear: that Israel might take advantage of a gulf war to expel many Palestinians who have carried on a 3-year uprising against Israeli rule.

″Transfer is the main fear that we have now,″ said Saeed Kenaan, a pro- PLO businessman in the city of Nablus. ″We are afraid Israel might force us to leave the West Bank and live in the East Bank,″ meaning neighboring Jordan.

Kenaan also has predicted that some Palestinian activists might try to take advantage of a war to stage violent demonstrations.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said Israel will try not to do anything that could dissolve the U.S.-led coalition in the gulf, which includes such Arab countries as Egypt, Syria and Morocco. Any large scale expulsion of Palestinians could tear the Arab contingent apart.

Zeev Schiff, the respected military analyst of the Israeli daily Haaretz, was interviewed this week in the Arab-language daily Al-Quds and gave assurances Israel had no plans to expel Palestinians.

But Schiff echoed the warnings of police and army officials that if Palestinians tried to interfere with an Israeli war effort by heightening their intefadeh, or uprising, they could expect harsh treatment.

″If the intefadeh adopts dramatic changes, then the name of the game will be changed,″ Schiff said.

In Bethlehem’s market Thursday, shoppers seemed more concerned with making sure they had enough food and supplies in their homes than with fears they’d be deported.

The failure of Wednesday’s talks between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz seemed to have set off a shopping spree by Palestinians from surrounding villages and refugee camps.

Thousands of shoppers were buying flour, rice, sugar and cooking oil in huge quantities. Mohammed, a pharmacist, said customers with chronic illnesses were asking for extra medicine to see them through any siege.

Jamal, a 27-year-old from the Deheisheh refugee camp, had defied a curfew requiring camp residents to stay home and sneaked into Bethlehem to shop. He was not buying food, but cigarettes and batteries for his radio so he could hear the news.

″I can eat anything, but I need the radio and the cigarettes″ he said.

Salem Hussein, a 50-year-old carpenter, was one Palestinian who expressed nervousness that Iraqi missiles, possibly carrying chemical warheads, might strike the West Bank.

He noted that unlike Israeli citizens, Palestinians in the territories have not been issued gas masks. Officials have said this is because the Arab- inhabited occupied lands are not likely to be targets. They have noted, too, that Jewish settlers in the territories also have not been given gas masks.

The carpenter proudly pointed to the healthy stock of food he’d bought to feed his family of six, including scores of canned goods and plastic bags of ″ful,″ the beans that are a Palestinian staple.

″We have to try to survive one way or another,″ he said.

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