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Israelis Joyful, Some Palestinians Shocked Over Saddam Capture - 2003-12-15


Israeli officials have expressed joy and relief over the capture of Saddam Hussein, while for many Palestinians the news was gloomy.

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, spoke of a great day in the fight against terrorism. He said he called President Bush to congratulate him on Saddam's capture.

"Today is a great day for the democratic world and the fight for freedom and justice and for those who fight against terror," he said. "We are relieved that this murderer and dictator can no longer stand in the way of the rebuilding and reconstruction of the country he destroyed."

Israel saw Saddam Hussein as one of its greatest enemies in the region. During the 1991 Gulf War he sent dozens of Scud missiles raining down on Israel, and he gave money to Palestinian militants and to the families of suicide bombers.

There has been no official reaction to Saddam's capture from the Palestinian Authority. But, for many Palestinians the news came as a shock. Despite his brutality, many Arabs in general saw Saddam Hussein as a strong leader who stood up to the world's only remaining superpower, the United States, and its ally, Israel.

Palestinian political analyst Mahdi Abdel Hadi of the Palestinian academic center, PASIA, says many will not want to believe the news of Saddam Hussein's capture.

"How this man for the last three decades, governing and controlling and talking as a leader, as a hero, as a defender of Arab rights, and suddenly being seen as weak, if not a coward, surrender," he said. "They [Arabs] prefer to see him killing himself and become a martyr, a hero, a legend."

Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner says the capture of Saddam Hussein should also send a message to others in the region, including Syria. "I believe they will have to reconsider their position, reconsider their politics and adopt a line that would be more friendly towards democracy, towards liberty, towards the western world," he said. "I think the tide in the Middle East has changed."

Mr. Pazner says there is also a message for the Palestinians, that terrorism and violence do not pay. "We have to consider now that a new chapter has to open, that peace is possible between Palestinians and Israelis," said Mr. Pazner. "Palestinians will have to renounce terrorism, and when they will do so they will find a willing partner on the side of Israel to talk peace."

Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdel Hadi says times have changed and Palestinians and Arabs in general must face reality. "The Arab mind is facing a real serious challenge and trial to move from illusion and fantasy and dreams to see reality as it is," he said.

Mr. Abdel Hadi says if Arabs can do that, the lessons of Saddam Hussein could turn out to be positive.

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