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Risking Israel's ire, US takes 1,350 Palestinian refugees

The US is generally reluctant to resettle Palestinians, but these are refugees from Iraq who have been targeted since the invasion.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 8, 2009



Atlanta

The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall.

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It will be the largest-ever resettlement of Palestinian refugees into the US – and welcome news to the Palestinians who fled to Iraq after 1948 but who have had a tough time since Mr. Hussein was deposed in 2003. Targeted by Iraqi Shiites, the mostly-Sunni Palestinians have spent recent years in one of the region's roughest refugee camps, Al Waleed, near Iraq's border with Syria.

"Really for the first time, the United States is recognizing a Palestinian refugee population that could be admitted to the US as part of a resettlement program," says Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch in Washington.

Given the US's past reluctance to resettle Palestinians – it accepted just seven Palestinians in 2007 and nine in 2008 – the effort could ruffle some diplomatic feathers.

For many in the State Department and international community, the resettlement is part of a moral imperative the US has to clean up the refugee crisis created by invading Iraq. The US has already stepped up resettlement of Iraqis, some who have struggled to adjust to life in America.

The resettlement of Iraqi Palestinians is "an important gesture for the United States to demonstrate that we're not heartless," says Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at New York University.

But some critics say the State Department is sloughing off its problems onto American cities, especially since in this case the Palestinians were sympathizers of Hussein, who was deposed by the US.

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