BAGHDAD, 18 March 2007 (IRIN) - The United Nations has reiterated its call for the protection of Palestinian refugees in Iraq after Iraqi security forces killed one and detained dozens in raids last week, causing a number of Palestinian families to flee to the border.
“One Palestinian, [who was] a guard at a mosque, was killed with at least one gunshot to the head during the raid on Wednesday,” said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The agency called for the immediate protection of Palestinians in Iraq.
Iraqi Interior Ministry officials defended the raid in Baladiat, a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in eastern Baghdad, saying it was targeting a gang dealing in stolen cars and security forces faced resistance when they went to arrest suspects on Wednesday. They said three gang members were killed and 15 others arrested.
“We only target criminals, regardless of their background, and we deal with all Palestinians the same way we deal with Iraqis. We protect them,” said spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf.
Dalil al-Qusous, the Palestinian Charge d’Affaires in Baghdad, said Iraqi security forces caused “fear and awe” among Palestinians in their raid. He called for the “immediate release of the innocent Palestinian detainees”.
UNHCR’s Redmond said that the raid prompted at least 41 Palestinians to flee the capital and join 850 of their compatriots who have been stranded on the Iraq-Syria border since last May. More were expected to be on their way, he said.
He added that he was concerned for the safety of NGOs working with Palestinians. On 13 March, one NGO staff member dealing with the Palestinian community was abducted in front of his son by unknown men and was found dead the next day, Redmond said.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), the only aid agency working throughout the country, said it had no figures for Palestinians who are internally displaced in Iraq as they join other families and do not register at Red Crescent offices.
No special treatment
“There is no special treatment for those Palestinians in Baghdad. We deal with them like other Iraqis who need our help and, of course, we will not hesitate to help them when they ask,” said Mazin Abdullah Saloom, a spokesman for the Red Crescent.
“Our support is still ongoing for those [Palestinian] families who are stranded on the borders. We are offering them tents, foodstuffs, blankets and heaters. We call upon all internally displaced Palestinians to register their families at any of our 40 offices across Baghdad,” Saloom added.
Palestinians, many of whom fled to Iraq from the newly created Israel in 1948, were treated well under the government of the deceased former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, causing some Iraqis to resent them.
UNHCR said at least 186 Palestinians were murdered in Baghdad between April 2004 and January 2007, while about 15,000 Palestinians remain in Iraq, less than half the number who had lived there previously.
“We are being killed every day and the whole world is motionless. What have we done to live with this ordeal?” a Palestinian refugee told IRIN in a phone interview from his home on condition of anonymity as he feared reprisals.
“If there is none to protect our children and women, then we have to take up our guns and protect ourselves and no one can blame us. With this situation we consider ourselves already dead,” he said.
Andrew Harper, head of UNHCR’s Iraq Support Unit, said Palestinians are “particularly targeted, not protected and have nowhere to flee to. How much more will have to happen before the international community and the countries in the region respond positively to calls to have Palestinians relocated out of Iraq?”
In another ominous development, the arrest on Saturday of an al-Qa’eda leader of Palestinian origin, according to Brig. General Qassim al-Mousawi, spokesman of the new Baghdad Security Plan, is expected to further put the lives of Palestinians in Iraq in danger.
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