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Saudi Telethon Raises Millions for Palestinians

April 12, 2002|From Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A princess donated her Rolls-Royce, one woman gave up her dowry and other Saudis poured millions of dollars into a fund to help families of Palestinian "martyrs" in a nationwide telethon Thursday.

Wheelchair-bound children braved unseasonable rain in Riyadh, the capital, to drop cash into plastic boxes outside the state-run television station, which, along with the radio, was organizing the drive. Long lines of cars jammed the area, with drivers giving cash, gold jewelry and clothes to volunteers with collection bags.

In the first five hours of the 11-hour fund-raising campaign, $11.9 million had been donated.

"We love you," said Sheik Saleh bin Hussein Ayed, a member of the Islamic Affairs Ministry, addressing the Palestinians during the telethon. "We cannot forget you or ignore what's happening to you by the [Israeli] aggressors."

The event, ordered by King Fahd and broadcast live by local and Saudi-owned satellite channels, aims to help relatives of "martyrs," a term that has been used by the Palestinians to refer to anyone killed by Israelis or in operations against Israel--including suicide bombers.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington said the term as used in fund-raising drives referred not to suicide bombers but to "Palestinians who are victimized by Israeli terror and violence."

It said any suggestion that Saudis are giving money to suicide bombers is "baseless and false" and "an attempt to deflect from Israel's terror practices in the occupied territories."

Saudi assistance "includes financial assistance to the families of victims--'martyrs'--distributed through the private humanitarian organization chaired by Interior Minister Prince Nayif [ibn Abdulaziz]," it said.

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