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In the wake of the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh on Saturday expressed his concerns about Iraq's path in the post-Saddam era.

Sneh told Israel Radio that Israel was concerned about the strengthening of Iranian influence in the Shiite sections of southern Iraq and also in the central government. Iraq had also become a regional "power station" for terror that could spread chaos throughout the Middle East, he said.

"We have to be worried about what is going to happen now," he said.

Also on Saturday, MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al-Ra'am) criticized the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, calling the hanging an act of 'sadism.'

"Even dictators deserve to be treated humanely," the Israeli Arab politician said.

Meanwhile in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the execution of Saddam sent many Palestinians into deep mourning as they struggled to come to terms with the demise of perhaps their most steadfast ally.

Unlike much of the rest of the world, where Saddam was viewed as a brutal dictator who oppressed his people and started regional wars, in the West Bank and Gaza he was seen as a generous benefactor unafraid to fight for the Palestinian cause - even to the end.

Saddam's final words were reportedly, "Palestine is Arab."

"We heard of his martyrdom, and I swear to God we were deeply shaken from within," said Khadejeh Ahmad from the Qadora refugee camp in the West Bank.

"Nobody was as supportive or stood with the Palestinians as he did."

During the first Gulf War in 1991, the Palestinians cheered Saddam's missile attacks on Israel, chanting "Beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv," as the Scud missiles flew overhead.

He further endeared himself to the Palestinians during the recent uprising with Israel by giving US$25,000 to the family of each suicide bomber and US$10,000 for each Palestinian killed in fighting. The stipends amounted to an estimated US$35 million.

Saddam's support for the Palestinians - whose cause is deeply popular with Arabs throughout the Middle East - was at least partially aimed at gaining widespread support throughout the Arab world.

Saddam's downfall - his defeat by America, his capture in a filthy hole, his conviction and his execution - was seen as a tragedy by Palestinians, who lionized Saddam and praised his willingness to stand up to America and Israel, where other Arab leaders would not.

"Saddam was a person who had the ability to say, 'No,' in the face of a great country," said Hosni al Ejel, 46, from the al Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

"He wanted the Palestinian people to have a state and a government and to be united. But God supports us, and we pray to God to punish those who did this," said Ghanem Mezel, 72, from the town of Saeer in the southern West Bank.

Ratib el-Imlah, the leader of the Arab Liberation Front, a local branch of Saddam's Baath party, called Saturday "a sad day in the lives of Palestinians, and in our Arab nation."

Others were happy to hear Saddam's final words, knowing that his support for them remained unshakable until the end.

Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem opened a "house of condolence," where dozens of people gathered on white chairs to drink black coffee and mourn Saddam. The organizers hung Iraqi flags, pictures of Saddam and played Iraqi revolutionary songs. Some vehicles had black strips of fabric hanging from their antennae.

Mohammed Barghouti, the minister of labor in the Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet, said that although his Islamic group was often at odds with the secular Saddam, his execution was wrong.

"The Palestinians had bonded with Iraqis in brotherhood," he said.

British Foreign Secretary: He has been held to accountAlso on Saturday, U.S. President George W. Bush called Saddam Hussein's execution an "important milestone" for Iraq and "the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime."

"It is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror," he said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas late Friday local time.

Bush added that the execution marks the "end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops" and cautioned that his death will not halt the violence in Iraq.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said the world was now "rid of a brutal dictator."

"Saddam Hussein, found guilty before the world after a free and fair trial, has finally met justice," the Kentucky Republican said in a written statement. "The free people of Iraq must now go forward together to build a unified nation, and leave behind sectarian divisions."

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that Saddam Hussein had been held to account for some of his crimes against the Iraqi people.

"I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein has been tried by an Iraqi court for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people. He has now been held to account," she said in a statement.

The execution has put the British government in a difficult position because of its opposition to the death penalty.

Britain was Bush's main ally during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and still has some 7,200 troops in the country.

"The British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else," Beckett said.

"We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime. We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation," she said.

"Iraq continues to face huge challenges. But now it has a democratically elected government, which represents all communities and is committed to fostering reconciliation. We will continue to work with this government and with the Iraqi people to build security and prosperity for the future," she added.

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Beckett's statement "spoke for the whole government including the prime minister" and she did not expect Blair to say anything more.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said while Australia also opposes the death penalty, Saddam had faced justice and a fair trial and had been found guilty of crimes against humanity.

"The people of Iraq now know that their brutal dictator will never come back to lead them," Downer said in a statement.

"While many will continue to grieve over their personal loss under his rule, his death marks an important step in consigning his tyrannical regime to the judgment of history and pursuing a process of reconciliation now and in the future."

Australia, a close ally of the United States, was one of the first nations to commit troops to the war in Iraq and maintains about 1,400 troops in and around Iraq.

France, which advocates like all its European partners the universal abolition of the death penalty, says the decision belongs to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi sovereign authorities. France calls on to all Iraqis to look forward and to work for reconciliation and national unity. More than ever the aim must be a return to the full sovereignty and stability of Iraq.

Iran: execution is a victory for the Iraqi peopleIran termed the execution a "victory for the Iraqi people", state news agency IRNA reported.

"The execution of Saddam Hussein was a victory for the Iraqi people and no other country should take credit for that," Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid-Reza told IRNA in a first reaction by Tehran to the execution.

Assefi however criticized the swift execution and speculated that the United States preferred to avoid disclosure of more details in the court hearings.

Russia expressed regret over the execution and concerns that his death could trigger a new spiral of violence in Iraq.

"Regrettably, repeated calls by representatives of various nations and international organisations to the Iraqi authorities to refrain from capital punishment were not heard," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement.

"Saddam Hussein's execution can lead to further aggravation of the military and political situation and the growth of ethnic and confessional tensions."

The Vatican said in a statement that the execution was a "tragic event like all capital punishments" and risked fomenting a spirit of vendetta and sowing new violence in Iraq.

A senior Taliban leader, former Afghan Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund said "Bush and Blair have launched a crusade against Muslims. Saddam was hanged because he was a Muslim while slaves like Jalal Talabani in Iraq and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan have been given power."

Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch, criticized the trial preceding the execution.

"The test of a government's commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders ... History will judge the deeply flawed Dujail trial and this execution harshly," he said.

Amnesty International: Rushed execution is wrongLarry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International USA also criticized the execution, and said, "The rushed execution of Saddam Hussein is simply wrong. It signifies justice denied for countless victims who endured unspeakable suffering during his regime, and now have been denied their right to see justice served.

A statement from Japan's foreign ministry said "we have acknowledged that the judgment has been made according to due process and pay respect to the legal procedures that the Iraqi government has taken. That said, what is most important in our view is to make this sentence not a new source of conflict but of reconciliation between the Iraqi people.

Prior to Saturday's execution, the Yemeni and Libyan governments attempted to make 11th hour appeals to spare Saddam Hussein's life.

Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Kader Bajammal wrote to the U.S. and Iraqi presidents, urging them to save Saddam, according to the official Yemeni news agency Saba.

Bajammal wrote to President Bush that Saddam's execution would "increase the sectarian violence" in Iraq, Saba reported.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi also made an indirect appeal for Saddam's life, telling Al-Jazeera television that his trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.

Saddam was a prisoner of war, and "those who arrested should try him," Gadhafi said, referring to the American troops who captured Saddam in December 2003.

Iraqi Americans cheer reports of Saddam's executionA crowd of Iraqi-Americans cheered and cried outside a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan on Saturday morning as reports filtered through that Saddam Hussein had been executed.

The crowd of more than 150 had gathered in anticipation of Saddam's hanging late Friday, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator as people honked car horns, sang and danced in celebration.

Chants of "Now there's peace, Saddam is dead" in English and Arabic rang into the night in the Detroit suburb.

Imam Husham Al-Husainy, the director of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center, said members of the center prayed for Saddam's death. "The gift of our New Year is the murder of Saddam Hussein," he said.

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and chairman of several local Arab-American groups, said Saddam's death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and won't solve the power struggle among Iraqi religious groups.

"The execution might bring some amusement and accomplishment to the Bush administration, but it will not help the Iraqi people," Siblani said. "The problem we're facing in Iraq is going to multiply."

The Detroit area contains one of the United States' largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East, including an Iraqi community of Chaldeans, who are Catholic, Arabs and Kurds. Many from Iraq fled their homeland during the rule of Saddam.

Buried in YemenAhead of the execution of Saddam Hussein, his daughter had asked that his body be buried in Yemen, a source close to the family said.

His daughter Raghd, who is exiled in Jordan, "is asking that his body be buried in Yemen temporarily until Iraq is liberated and it can be reburied in Iraq," a source close to the family said by telephone.

Defense lawyer Issam Jhazzawi told Reuters earlier Saddam's daughters were bracing for his imminent death. "The family are praying for him every minute and are calling on God that He let his soul rest in peace among the martyrs," he said.

Related links:

  • Saddam Hussein executed by hanging in Baghdad
  • Iraqi-Americans cheer reports of Saddam's execution
  • Key dates in the life of Saddam Hussein
  • A glance at Saddam Hussein's crimes
  • Saddam Hussein quotes from his trials

    Image galleries:

  • Saddam Hussein
  • The first Gulf War

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