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Iraq: Militants force Palestinians to leave Anbar

RAMADI, 24 April 2007 (IRIN) - Palestinians living in Iraq's Anbar province have come under increasing pressure from militants to leave or be killed, NGOs and Palestinians say.

Palestinians in the capital, Baghdad, have long been threatened by armed groups and harassed by authorities but threats to them in other provinces are a new development, aid workers say. Sunni-dominated Anbar used to protect Palestinians, who are predominantly Sunni too, but times have changed.

"Palestinians had been looking for safety and had found it in Anbar province but now they are being targeted [there also]. The threats they have received are an effrontery against the feelings of Muslim Arabs. They have nowhere to go and might be killed if they try to go to another place," Mahmoud Aydan, a media officer for the Ramadi council, said.

"We believe that there are about 150 families taking refuge in different cities of Anbar province but they haven't been registered with the National Food Programme which makes it harder to know their exact location," Aydan said.

A spokesman for the Baghdad-based Palestinian Muslims Association (PMA) said he was concerned about the fate of Palestinians in Anbar governorate after militants left threatening notes on the doors of Palestinians taking refuge in the area.

"At least 17 families have fled Ramadi [capital of Anbar and about 100 km west of Baghdad] after militants gave them a week to leave their homes or become the next victims of violence in Iraq," Ahmed Muffitlak, a spokesman for PMA, said.

Palestinians have nowhere to go

"But they don't have anywhere to go. Some families told me they are going to try to reach the al-Waleed camp near the Syrian border. Others expect to be accepted in Baghdad's Sunni neighbourhoods," he added.

In Baghdad, Palestinians - especially those in the mainly Palestinian neighbourhoods of Baladiat, Hurriyah and Iskan - continue to be discriminated against and continue to receive threats to leave the country.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a press statement in March that at least 186 Palestinians have been murdered in Baghdad between April 2004 and January 2007, while about 15,000 Palestinians remain in Iraq, fewer than half the number who had lived there previously.

Muffitlak reiterated the PMA's call for the protection of Palestinian refugees in Iraq and has urged the Iraqi government and international NGOs to assist the threatened families in Anbar.

"They should do something before more Palestinians are killed. It is the minimum they can do to save so discriminated against a community, which cannot even return to its original land," added Muffitlak, who is in Ramadi trying to persuade the local authorities to protect Palestinians.

Ahmed Raki, a 43-year-old Palestinian father of three lives in Ramadi. He is looking for a place at al-Waleed camp on the Syrian border, which has become a makeshift home for hundreds of Palestinians fleeing violence.

"There are dozens of [Palestinian] families living with Iraqis in Ramadi, Fallujah and al-Qaim and the threats have been delivered to their homes. We don't have money, goods and some elderly people are very sick, requiring urgent medical assistance. But they will be forced to flee the area to save their lives," said Raki.

"Two girls from our community were raped last week by militants who told them that it was a message to the Palestinians in Anbar to leave the area," Raki added. "I have to leave before my two daughters meet the same fate."