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Palestinians Hold Pro-Iraq Demonstrations - 2003-03-21

Israeli security forces clashed Friday with pro-Iraqi Palestinian demonstrators rioting at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's walled Old City. Palestinians also held mass demonstrations in Gaza against the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian rioters began, following the end of Friday prayers by Muslims on the Temple Mount, an area that is sacred to both Arabs and Jews.

The compound was the site of the Jewish Holy Temples in biblical times, but for centuries it has been home to the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, making it the third holiest place in Islam.

Muslim worshipers at the shrine appealed to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to fire missiles at Tel Aviv, as he did during the first Gulf war, in 1991.

The worshipers then streamed out of the compound, chanting more pro-Iraq slogans, before jostling with police as they made their way to leave the Old City through the Damascus Gate.

Fighting erupted and Israeli police responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds. The clashes spread to Salah a-Din street, one of the main roads in east Jerusalem, outside the Old City.

And in the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians holding up pictures of Saddam Hussein poured out of mosques to show their support for the Iraqi leader and to protest the U.S. military offensive to topple him from power.

At one mosque in Gaza, the prayer leader told 15,000 worshipers that the Arab armies must resist what he called the American "invaders" in Iraq. He also said all Arabs citizens should refuse to assist the U.S.-led forces.

Saddam Hussein has remained popular among many Palestinians since the 1991 Gulf war when he pledged to help liberate them from what he called Israel's occupation.

Many Palestinians cheered at the time when he fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, causing extensive property damage but few casualties.

The Iraqi president also continues to encourage Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

He has donated more than $35 million to the families of Palestinians, including suicide bombers and civilians killed in fighting with Israel since the latest violence began in September 2000.