Palestinians hold vigil in sympathy with Americans

Arafat, other leaders try to align themselves more closely with U.S.

Terrorism Strikes America

The World

September 15, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Palestinians gathered yesterday for a candlelight vigil outside the Old City to show sympathy for the United States, as Palestinian leaders sought to align themselves more closely with the West.

The 150 Palestinians who stood outside the Old City's Damascus Gate to light white candles formed a cross-section of East Jerusalem residents, from fruits sellers in traditional dress to teen-agers wearing T-shirts with the Nike swoosh.

"We want to show solidarity with the American people," said Khaled Zaanin, 15, standing on the steps to the great stone gate. "We are as sad as they are."

Palestinian officials were anxious to recover from the damage caused Tuesday by pictures of Palestinians celebrating the attacks in New York and Washington. Those images threatened to cast Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a supporter of terrorist attacks against the United States. Israel has cited the pictures and the bombings to pressure Arafat to end the nearly year-old Palestinian uprising.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was to meet with Arafat tomorrow to discuss a truce, but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Peres yesterday to cancel the session. Peres, in remarks on Israeli television, said he would try to persuade Sharon to allow the talks. Failure to maintain a dialogue with Arafat, Peres suggested, could harm U.S. efforts to rally Arab nations to its call for an international alliance against terrorism.

The Americans "want Muslim and Arab elements in this coalition, and if the Palestinian issue can be shunted to the side or solved, that's important to them," Peres said, noting that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was pushing for the talks.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo accused Sharon of vetoing the meeting so he could "continue his terrorist war" against the Palestinians.

Earlier, Peres said that Arafat had to make a clear decision whether to support the United States. "This is a genuine opportunity for him to get out of the world of terrorism," Peres said Thursday on Israel Radio. "There's a point in your life whether you either quit or become its victim."

Palestinians say Israel is responsible for perpetuating the violence. They accuse the Israeli army of having used the world's horror at events in the United States as a cover for launching strikes in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Jericho. More than a dozen Palestinians were killed in two days.

"We are victims every day to terrorism," said Rifat Nasser Eddim, a Palestinian at yesterday's vigil. "We are here to offer our condolences to all the innocent victims in the United States. We are here to mourn all the victims of terrorism."

Dr. Mahdi Abdel Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said the vigil "was a symbolic act to show that America's pain is felt everywhere."

But Hadi called on Americans to look closer at the conditions under which Palestinians live. "Try to understand the despair that drives people to such depths that they are willing to kill themselves in such attacks," he said.

Yesterday's vigil was one of several events publicized by the Palestinian Authority, which included a moment of silence in schools in the West Bank and Gaza and photo opportunities of Arafat giving blood to help America's victims.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem handed out candy Tuesday and yelled "America is dead," as television cameras showed the scene.

"They were people without any feeling," Eddim said. "It wasn't our finest moment."

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