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As violence surges, UN envoy calls on Iraqis to pull back from ‘abyss of sectarianism’

As violence surges, UN envoy calls on Iraqis to pull back from ‘abyss of sectarianism’

The top United Nations envoy to Iraq today called on its political and religious leaders to do all in their power to “save the country from sliding further into the abyss of sectarianism” after yesterday’s bombings in Baghdad which killed or injured more than 200 innocent civilians.

“These deplorable outrages again underscore the urgent need for all Iraqis to reject violence and together choose the path of peace and reconciliation,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement issued in the name of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Ashraf Qazi.

Terming the attacks “particularly heinous and criminal,” Mr. Qazi – as he has done frequently in the past – again called on the Iraqi authorities to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators.

In another development, the UN refugee agency reported that 17 Palestinian men sheltered in a Baghdad apartment building rented by the agency were taken away today by men dressed in Iraqi security force uniforms and driving security vehicles. A relative of one of those taken and a local aid worker said they were later released, but the agency was unable to immediately confirm this.

Over the past year the agency has voiced increasing alarm for the Palestinians, who fled to Iraq following the creation of Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under ousted President Saddam Hussein, and they have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled the country.

Witnesses said the security men broke into the Palestinians’ apartments at 5 a.m., smashing doors and windows, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “UNHCR is very concerned and is seeking further information,” he said. Mr. Qazi's office was also taking it up with senior Iraqi officials, he added.

Those taken away and their families had been evicted from their homes in 2003 after the change of regime and were initially housed in tents. There are still an estimated 15,000 Palestinians remaining in Iraq, “living in constant fear of harassment, killings and kidnappings,” Mr. Redmond said.

Those who try to leave cannot get proper documents, and hundreds are stuck at the Syrian border. Another group has been stuck in an isolated camp in Jordan since 2003. “It is urgent that international support is found to bring at least a temporary solution for Palestinians from Iraq,” Mr. Redmond said.

He noted that UNHCR had already tried, to no avail, to secure them entry into Jordan and Syria, return to the Palestinian territory with the permission of Israel, relocation to other Arab states, and resettlement outside the region.

“At the same time, we continue to advocate for better protection of the Palestinian community inside Iraq. But under the present circumstances, return to Iraq is no option unless security is restored. Right now, it’s an untenable situation for the Palestinians and it is deteriorating on a daily basis,” he said.