RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – More than $100 million has been collected in a telethon that ended Saturday to raise money for the Palestinians and also allowed Saudis to vent their anger against Israel and the United States on state-owned television.
Ordinary Saudis taking part have shown support for Palestinian suicide bombings at a time when President Bush is demanding that all Arab governments unequivocally condemn such attacks.
A 6-year-old boy, with a plastic gun slung over his shoulder and fake explosives strapped around his waist, walked into a donation center and made a symbolic donation of plastic explosives, according to Al Watan daily.
Another Saudi, 26-year-old Mohamed al-Qahtani, offered his car, saying he hoped it will "reach the Palestinian areas so a Palestinian fighter could use it to blow up a military barracks and kill (Israeli) soldiers," Al Watan reported.
Saudi Arabia's ruler, King Fahd, ordered the fund-raising drive to help channel mounting public anger against Israel and the United States away from street protests, which the kingdom bans for fear they would get out of control.
The campaign was criticized by some in the United States as an incitement to violence. But Saudi officials in Washington have assured the Bush administration that proceeds raised are intended to serve humanitarian purposes, not help the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Defense minister, Prince Sultan, on Saturday criticized public demonstrations in the Arab world, asking "how does the demagoguery of the streets and the burning and ripping of flags help Palestinians in their country?"
Charitable donations to help the Palestinians "are what would help," Sultan said in comments carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The Saudi Committee for the Support of the Intefadeh, or uprising, which has organized the telethon, said in a statement that it will also send $10.5 million in emergency aid to 200,000 Palestinians, whose West Bank towns have been besieged by Israeli forces since March 29.
Several other Gulf states have staged telethons. One Friday in the United Arab Emirates on Abu Dhabi TV raised more than $50 million. Another in neighboring Bahrain saw more than $10.5 million pledged. Telethons held in Dubai and Qatar this week raised $35 million and $8.2 million respectively.
In Jerusalem, Secretary of State Colin Powell noted the dire situation in some Palestinian towns. He announced a $30 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency on top of the $80 million already contributed annually.