Shock in Jerusalem at Saddam's capture

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The Independent Online

The flickering, 14-inch television screen in the Al Omal caf} opposite the Damascus Gate was tuned to the Telly Tubbies. An hour after the Americans announced that they'd "got him", news of Saddam Hussein's arrest spread through Arab East Jerusalem by old-fashioned word of mouth.

Kebabs sizzled, water pipes bubbled, leather-faced old men in black and white chequered head cloths went on playing cards. When we asked the young manager of the Al Jazeera pharmacy, lately renamed to cash in on the popular Arabic satellite station, what he thought about the arrest, he said: "Oh, have they caught him?"

In his heyday, the Iraqi dictator distributed more than $15 million to the families of Palestinian "martyrs." West Bank Arabs danced with delight when he fired Scud missiles on Tel-Aviv in 1991. But last night Palestinian Authority spokesmen were reluctant to comment.

With equal caution, Amr Moussa, the Arab League's secretary-general, said merely that the arrest was "an important event," adding that the Iraqi people should decide his fate. In Israel, by contrast, shares on the Tel-Aviv stock exchange soared more than 3 per cent in celebration.

In East Jerusalem, the card players and shopkeepers, bakers and building workers were divided. For some, Saddam was an Arab hero, for others a traitor who had betrayed the Palestinian cause. Most were sure, however, that his capture would not stop the resistance.

Mahmoud Azmi, a 25-year-old porter, said he was shocked by the arrest. "Saddam was the only one who said no to the Americans," he explained. "All the others bowed down before them. What if he was a dictator? All the Arab leaders are dictators."

Mohammed Abdel Fatah, a 48-year-old cook, concurred: "Saddam was the best. All the other Arab leaders were collaborators and traitors, including ours. He was the only one who fought the whole world."

But Ahmed Jebour, a 25-year-old building worker, said he was happy Saddam was under lock and key. "He destroyed the Palestinian people. He talked big, but he couldn't do anything." What about the Scuds, we asked, and the handouts to suicide bombers' families? "He did that for his own propaganda," Mr Jebour jeered.

Ahmed Mohammed, a 20-year-old baker, put it more succinctly: "Let him go to hell!"

Asked whether the arrest would reduce the violence in Iraq, Abed Mo'ez Saleimeh, an unemployed 58-year-old father of 12, replied: "The Iraqis got rid of Saddam's injustice, but they got an American occupation in its place. Like us, they will go on resisting."

Pausing between sips of sweet tea, Hamad Sa'adi Salameh, 74, agreed: "There are 26 million Iraqis, and they're not fighting for Saddam. They're fighting to end the American occupation. The Iraqi revolution is just like the Palestinian revolution."

The Telly Tubbies bounced and nodded on, but nobody was taking much notice.