GAZA, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- A Palestinian official says 520 Palestinian refugees have been killed by militias since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The head of the refugee affairs department at the Palestine Liberation Organization, Zakaria al-Agha, said Wednesday a total of 809 Palestinians have been attacked, of which 520 were killed and 140 injured and maimed.
He told a news conference in Gaza that an additional 62 were arrested and 22 more were kidnapped in the past three years.
Agha said while there were some 400 Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq for safety at makeshift U.N. camps in no-man's land in bordering areas with Jordan and Syria, they continue to be attacked by Iraqi militias.
The PLO official called on the international community and human rights organizations to immediately intervene to protect some 22,100 Palestinian refugees in Iraq and to pressure Israel to allow them to return to the Palestinian territories.
Palestinians, all of whom are Sunni and perhaps a handful of Christians, have become a favorite target for government-backed Shiite militias since the U.S.-led forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
The attacks are generally regarded as acts of vengeance, not because the Palestinians are Sunni, but because the community supported Saddam's regime, which had provided the Palestinian refugees with free homes, an education and livelihoods in Iraq during its three-decade reign.
Agha said the PLO agreed to several proposals to end the plight of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, including an idea to set up a safe haven for the Palestinian refugees in the Sunni al-Anbar province and in the Kurdish regions under the supervision of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.