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Saudi Arabia sets aside $50M for 'martyrs'

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   April 9, 2002 at 6:21 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- The Saudi Arabian government has paid out at least $33 million to families of Palestinians killed or injured in the 17-month-old intifada and in December 2001 earmarked another $50 million for the payments, according to Arabic news agencies and the Saudi Embassy's Web site.

Similar payments promised by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have drawn sharp condemnation from U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Aqsa Intifada distributes payments of $5,333 to the families of the dead and $4,000 to each Palestinian receiving medical treatment in Saudi hospitals. The fund is managed by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, according to the embassy.

The sum is far less than the $10,000 Iraq offers to the families of those killed and the $25,000 it gives to the kin of suicide bombers, but is nonetheless significant to the average Palestinian whose annual income is $1,575.

Saudi Arabia makes no distinction in compensation to families of suicide bombers and those killed by Israeli military action. There have been more than 50 suicide bombings since the intifada began in September 2000.

According to Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations, the Islamic faith enjoins Muslims to take care of widows and especially orphans. The families of suicide bombers are just as needy as those killed by military attacks, he said.

"They want to make it sound like (all the money is for) the families of suicide bombers," Hooper told United Press International.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professed ignorance of the Saudi fund Monday.

"I have no information whatsoever that suggests that the government of Saudi Arabia is doing what Iraq is," he said at a Pentagon news briefing.

Saudi Arabia created the fund in October 2000 at a conference of Arab nations held in Cairo, Egypt. It donated 25 percent of the $1 billion fund, $200 million of which goes for direct payments to families of the dead and injured and $800 million to fund economic development in the Palestinian territory.

As of January 2001, the Saudi government had paid $33 million to families of 2,281 prisoners and 358 "martyrs," as well as to 8,000 wounded, 1,000 handicapped and another 102 Palestinians who have been treated in the kingdom's hospitals. In addition, food hampers were distributed to more than 200,000 families, according to the embassy Web site.

The Bush administration avoided commenting on the Saudi fund but has decried the Iraqi payments -- especially to suicide bombers -- as inducement to murder.

"They're not martyrs," President Bush said April 4 at the White House. "They're murderers and they undermine the cause of the Palestinian people. Those governments like Iraq that reward parents for the sacrifice of their children are guilty of soliciting murder of the worst kind."

Bush and Rumsfeld charge the promised payments only serve to increase the violence.

"Here is an individual (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein) who is the head of a country, Iraq, who has proudly, publicly made a decision to go out and actively promote and finance human sacrifice for families that will have their youngsters kill innocent men, women, and children. That is an example of what it is we're dealing with," Rumsfeld said last week.

Since Saddam increased the payments for suicide bombers in late March there have been more than 13 suicide attacks. That increase also coincides with Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, a military crackdown known as Operation Defensive Shield. It began March 28.

Nearly 1,300 Palestinians have been killed since the uprising began, according to the Palestine Monitor, a pro-Palestinian Web site maintained by non-governmental organizations in Ramallah. More than 340 Israelis have been killed. More than half of the dead are men between the ages of 19 and 29, according to the Palestine Monitor.

"Sometimes I'd like to ask these people who criticize these things (the funds) to find a list of Palestinian orphans who shouldn't be fed. Give us a list of Palestinian widows and orphans so Muslims can comply with dictates of not feeding the wrong people," Hooper said. "Are you supposed to penalize some child, some widow, because of what their father did or did not do?"

Hooper said the criticism "plays very well (in the United States) when you have this hysteria fed by the far right."

The Saudi government's press office in Washington did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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