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Shi`a armed groups have threatened to kill Palestinian refugees living in Baghdad if they do not leave Iraq within 72 hours, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch urged the Iraqi government and the Multi-National Forces to investigate these threats and provide greater security to Palestinians in Iraq.

A new leaflet obtained by Human Rights Watch and bearing the name of the Al-Bayt Revenge Brigade – Rapid Response Units states that “there is no place for Palestinians in the Iraq of Ali, Hassan, and Hussain.” The names refer to three revered Shi`a imams; in contrast, virtually all Palestinians are Sunni Muslim. The leaflet also warns that “our swords can reach necks” and urges Palestinians to leave within 72 hours and “fight occupation in your own country,” referring to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

According to Baghdad residents, trucks with loudspeakers passed through the al-Dura neighborhood on September 25 and September 30 issuing death threats against Palestinians.

“These death threats to Palestinians underscore the constant violence against Palestinian refugees in Iraq in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi government and international forces in Iraq must take urgent steps to protect this community at risk.”

Armed groups in Iraq have killed dozens of Palestinian refugees since 2003. Last month, Human Rights Watch documented killings, threats of violence and other security concerns of the estimated 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq in the report, “Nowhere to Flee: The Perilous Situation of Palestinians in Iraq”.

Over the past two years, successive Iraqi governments have done little to protect Palestinian refugees and have often displayed open hostility to them, claiming they are involved in terrorism and supporting the insurgency. Officials in Iraq’s ministry of interior have arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured and, in a few cases, been implicated in the forcible disappearance of Palestinian residents. Moreover, the interior ministry has imposed onerous registration requirements on Palestinians, forcing them to constantly renew short-term residency permits. The ministry also subjects Palestinians to harassment rather than affording them the treatment they are entitled to because of their status as refugees, which was formally recognized by the Iraqi government.

“The Iraqi government and the U.S.-led forces must provide adequate security to the Palestinian community in Baghdad,” Whitson said. “The Iraqi government has a duty to investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacks and continued threats against Palestinians.”

Human Rights Watch urged neighboring countries, including Jordan and Syria, to open their borders to Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq. The international community should provide financial assistance to the host countries and offer third-country resettlement opportunities.

“Jordan and Syria have provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens fleeing Iraq, but they have closed their borders to Palestinian refugees from Iraq,” Whitson said. “When neighboring countries reject Palestinians fleeing serious threats in Iraq, they are forcibly returning them to persecution.”

The Human Rights Watch report of October 2005, “A Face and a Name: Civilian Victims of Insurgent Groups in Iraq,” documented widespread unlawful attacks by insurgent groups against Iraqi and other civilians from different ethnic and religious groups.

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