AMMAN, Jordan — The Jordanian government and people Thursday deplored the American-led bombing of Baghdad, declaring it a brutal attack that left the Arab nation seething with anger.
"Tonight, Saddam attacks Israel," warned one Amman resident Thursday--a comment that, hours later, was eerily proved true.
From supermarket checkout lines to civil defense centers, reaction to the onslaught of war was bitter, bellicose and occasionally violent as Jordan voiced its support for Iraq after months of asserted neutrality. But the nation made no move to enter the conflict.
Thousands of Arabs and Palestinians demonstrated in support of Iraq in Lebanon, Morocco and Sudan, where students chanted, "To the holy war! To the holy war!"
While pundits worried over the postwar changes in the regional balance, reaction on the streets of Middle East cities was restrained, with only Kuwaiti exiles celebrating openly at the prospect of Iraq being forced out of their homeland.
Jordan accused the United States and its Western and Arab allies of being "determined to follow a war option from the beginning," delaying the start of war only to buy time to build up their forces.
"Everyone who took part in this will bear the responsibility before God, people and history in regard to the objective of destroying an Arab military, scientific and human capability," the government said in a statement distributed to the foreign press here.
Fully throwing its weight to Iraq, the declaration added:
"Jordan's leadership, government and people deplore what has happened during the first few hours of today, which constitutes a brutal attack against an Arab and Muslim country and people which has always acted to help its Arab brethren."
Throughout Amman, as allied forces continued pounding targets in Iraq, just beyond Jordan's eastern border, on Thursday morning, thousands of outraged Jordanians and Palestinians crowded outside civil defense centers, offering to volunteer for combat duty in the region.
"George Bush thinks he's the boss of the world, but after this war, he won't even be there!" shouted Mohammed Kamal, a 27-year-old civil engineer who earned his graduate degree at Kansas State University, outside one such center downtown.
"I served six months in Ft. Riley. I know how to attack Americans--not the ordinary citizens, but the soldiers.
"And I am not alone," he said. "We are all willing to fight. Even my baby daughter; I am going to push her into war. My mom, my dad--all of them will fight. They started the war but, man, we're going to end it."
The Amman home of the Egyptian ambassador to Jordan was stoned and several foreign reporters were assaulted by groups of Palestinians. People cheered Iraqi radio claims of American planes downed, and rejected reports by American and British broadcasters about the success of the anti-Iraq air raids.
In Lebanon, about 1,000 protesters held a pro-Iraq demonstration outside the American University in Beirut.
The Iraqi missile attack on Israel, which occurred early this morning Amman time, immensely complicated the equation for this country. It puts Jordan in the tight spot King Hussein has tried to avoid by diplomacy despite the overwhelming pro-Iraqi sentiment on the streets.
But once the U.N. deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait passed at midnight Tuesday, the Jordanian strategy was in jeopardy. The possibility that Iraq and Israel would clash over--or in--Jordanian territory became an immediate possibility.
Just before war broke out early Thursday, the king told Jordanians in a nationally televised address:
"We will resist and fight fiercely if it (war) is imposed on us."
His government and 75,000-man armed forces, he said, "are determined to prevent anyone whosoever from crossing (Jordanian territory) in any direction whatever."
He said the military forces were on full alert. Jordanian units had been deployed along the border with Israel and the occupied West Bank the week before. Reserves were called up over the past 48 hours.
But Jordan's military is no match for its big neighbors. The air force flies dated American-built F-5 fighters and French Mirages.
Meanwhile, some reassurances were offered Thursday about the fate of Western hostages still held by Muslim extremists in Lebanon. The leader of Hezbollah, which is believed to be holding some of the six American hostages, said none would be executed in retaliation for the American attack against Iraq.
"America is preparing thousands of coffins for its soldiers," said Hezbollah leader Hussein Moussawi, on Tuesday. "Adding 10 or 15 more wouldn't make a difference."
While the Jordanian government continued to reject Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, none of the dozens of Jordanians interviewed Thursday on the streets of Amman mentioned the Iraqi conquest.
"America," concluded an older man volunteering for armed service, "has now ruined all its interests in this region."