Kuwaiti hospitals fill up with battered Palestinians WAR IN THE GULF


KUWAIT CITY -- Violent attacks on Palestinian residents have increased in recent days amid reports that Kuwaiti soldiers have begun to adopt the tactics of intimidation and harassment used by their former Iraqi occupiers.

The medical staff at Mubarak al-Kabir Hospital, the city's largest, said yesterday that about 80 young Palestinian men had been treated in the last five days for fractures and other serious wounds that doctors believed were caused by beatings.

The staff also said that roughly a half-dozen men were dead on arrival with execution-style gunshot wounds to the head. Many had been brought to the hospital from police stations.

An ambulance driver said he answered a call Monday to pick up a dead, 29-year-old Palestinian man who had been shot in the head and neck. Another driver said he had transported at least 20 badly injured Palestinians to Mubarak hospital in the last three days alone.

Kuwaiti soldiers staffing local police stations call the ambulances,

just as Iraqi soldiers did for their victims, he said.

A U.S. colonel in charge of special operations in the area, however, said reports that Palestinians had been killed in the city had been confused with the shootings of Kuwaitis. Col. Jesse L. Johnson said suspected collaborators were being rounded up for questioning, but he said he had no idea of the numbers.

"It is not the aim of the Kuwaitis to rid the city of Palestinians," he said. "They want to right a wrong, but it is not in their nature to take revenge."

He said seven Kuwaiti soldiers manning checkpoints had been gunned down by passing vehicles in late-night attacks over the last three nights. He also said 300 Iraqi soldiers had been found in Kuwait City and had been taken to POW camps.

Members of the Palestinian community here have attributed a rise in violence to a martial-law crackdown on armed civilians and to widespread anger over support given by some Palestinians to Iraqi forces that occupied Kuwait.

Kuwait's minister of state for Cabinet affairs, Abdul Rahman al-Awadi, acknowledged over the weekend that there were "hard feelings" toward the Palestinians, but he said Kuwait's real quarrel was with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We have nothing against the Palestinians -- maybe with their leaders and collaborators -- but the Palestinian is our brother and always will be our brother," he said.

But ever since Sunday, when the Kuwaiti army sent tanks and armored vehicles into Hawalli, the city's largest Palestinian community, for an extraordinary show of strength, military checkpoints have been more aggressively singling out Palestinian men for interrogation, searches and abuse, according to doctors, victims and members of the army.

Journalists driving through the city have witnessed several scenes in which soldiers kicked or punched Palestinian men after frisking or questioning them at a checkpoint.

"I've gotten busted in the street twice so far, and I've been taken to the police station where I've been punched and kicked and have received so many slams to the face," said Mohammed al-Aloul, a medical student working at Mubarak hospital.

At one checkpoint, Kuwaiti soldiers took away his identification card and hurled vulgar insults at him for being a Palestinian, Mr. Aloul said.

Then, he said, "they tried to make a lot of something out of nothing" by accusing him of driving without proper car license plates, even though many Kuwaiti drivers have removed their once-required Iraqi tags and are awaiting new Kuwaiti ones.

A Kuwaiti doctor said he watched helplessly Monday morning as three resistance fighters barged into the hospital director's office to accuse Shaker Ali, 32, an Iraqi-born hospital technician, of collaborating with the Iraqis.

A woman had accused Mr. Ali of having given the Iraqi military the name of a previous hospital director who disappeared a month ago, he quoted the resistance men as saying.

"It didn't happen; I know him personally," said the doctor, who feared retribution if identified.

"They beat him, kicked him and dragged him out of the hospital at gunpoint," taking him to Jahra prison, the doctor said, giving an account corroborated by other hospital staff members.

The hospital director, Ahmed al-Subbae, would not discuss the incident.

Another medical student, Mohammed al-Bahkri, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, strongly opposed Iraqi occupation of the country, observing, "Not even the Jews would treat Palestinians the way Saddam Hussein treated the Kuwaitis."

But now with the crackdown threatening his family and friends, "This is very disappointing," he said. "People are afraid to go into the streets."

He and most Palestinians on the staff have continued to live at the hospital, as they did during the Iraqi occupation, to minimize the need to travel outside.

Beginning yesterday, the hospital said it would issue special ID cards, endorsed by the Kuwait Ministry of the Interior, to give Palestinian staff members greater freedom of movement in the city, several staff members said.

At the hospital yesterday, Mr. Aloul treated a Palestinian, closing a gash on his face with 55 stitches. A Kuwaiti soldier held a rifle to the patient's head during the procedure, he said.

"The problem here is you treat them while they are being assaulted at the same time," he said. Some doctors said patients also had been tied to their beds. As he dressed an eye wound of a Palestinian man over the weekend, a soldier stood next to them shouting epithets against Palestinians, Mr. Aloul said.

Although U.S. Army Special Forces advisers have been seen on the street restraining Kuwaiti soldiers from violence, none has been present in the hospitals when Palestinians were being treated, especially at night and early in the morning, doctors said.

Some Palestinians also have wondered whether President Bush or the U.S. military would heed their concerns.

"For 42 years, we are an occupied country," said Mohammed, a 29-year-old Palestinian who refused to give his full name. "Where is the American army? Where is the United Kingdom army? Where are all those good people? Why? Because we haven't any oil."

Kuwait denied mistreating Palestinians, saying it was pursuing wrongdoers regardless of nationality. Foreign Minister Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah told the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA, "Some irresponsible elements in Palestinian circles have been repeatedly making false allegations and lies to the effect that the authorities in Kuwait have started acting against the Palestinian community."

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