PALESTINIAN students demonstrating at the height of the Gulf crisis were exhibiting anti-Israeli or anti-West sentiments rather than simply pro-Iraq sympathies, according to observers.
While hundreds took part in a demonstration in support of Iraq last week at An-Najah University in Nablus in the West Bank, thousands later attended a rally marking the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a separate pro-Iraqi protest.
According to Khalil Shikaki, of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus, pro-Iraqi sentiment is really "national anti-Israel sentiment", despite the fact that "Iraq has always been supportive of the Palestinians - at least, rhetorically."
Professor Shikaki added: "They look to Saddam as an Arab national - standing up to the United States and Israel. Palestinian students are always very nationalistic or radical, more than the rest of the community."
Mohammad Khader, acting director-general for student affairs in the Palestinian ministry of higher education, rejected a suggestion by Professor Shikaki that the ministry was discouraging students from demonstrating to avoid adverse publicity. It was not the ministry's business whether the students demonstrated or not, he said.
Albert Aghazarian, lecturer in Middle Eastern history at Birzeit University and university director of public relations, said demonstrators had been carrying Kuwaiti as well as Iraqi flags in a protest at threatened US intervention.