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Amman - Three weeks after they fled violence in Iraq, about 130 Palestinian refugees, including at least 50 children, are still stranded in the no-man's-land between Iraq and Jordan with no light at the end of the tunnel.

A controversy is building up between Jordan and international human rights groups, including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), on to what extent the Amman government is under obligation to allow Palestinian refugees to move to the Ruweished refugee camp, about 60 kilometres west of the border.

The issue threatened to blow up if the increasingly deteriorating security situation in Iraq forces more of the 34,000-strong Palestinian community there to desert their homes for safety.

The Palestinian ambassador in Jordan Atallah Khairy on Tuesday held the United States responsible for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, who are reportedly living in the desert without adequate water, food or shelter.

'The US troops are responsible for maintaining security inside Iraq and consequently for the safety of Palestinians living there,' Khairy told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

He said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had asked the United States 'directly and through Arab sides either to ensure protection for Palestinians inside Iraq or to find a safe place for them to live in.'

'The best place for them, of course, will be their homeland, Palestine, and we hope Washington will convince Israel to allow the stranded Palestinians to return to their original homes,' he added.

Some of the stranded refugees have told local newspapers that Palestinians in Iraq had received recurrent death threats by unknown armed groups in a bid to force them to leave.

Reports from Baghdad said that the crackdown on Palestinians escalated after the February 22 blast at the town of Samarra that destroyed two Shiite shrines.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Jordan to allow the Palestinian refugees into the country.

The call drew stern reaction from the Jordanian government which accused the HRW of 'interfering in the sovereign and political rights of every sovereign state'.

'It is unfair to expect Jordan to have an open door policy,' the government's official spokesman Nasser Judeh told reporters on Monday.

'Iraq is surrounded by five countries. I find it very strange that the emphasis is on Jordan to open up its border to anybody and everybody,' he added.

The Jordanian official suggested that the HRW take up this refugee issue with the Iraqi authorities, who he said were 'ultimately responsible for their protection and for their safety and their well-being'.

Other world organizations including the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said they were providing refugees with some help to enable them
meet their daily needs.

Khairy said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had sent a message to his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani asking him to ensure protection for the Palestinian community in Iraq.

He regretted that Palestinians there were accused by their assailants of being 'Saddamites', a reference to their alleged backing to the ousted President Saddam Hussein.

The former regime reportedly provided Palestinians with certain privileges including free housing, medication and education.

'Many of you were Saddamites, then why you direct such accusations against Palestinians,' Khairy said.

He expected the Iranian government to step in to use its influence to put an end to the persecution of Palestinians which is widely believed to be carried out mainly by Shiite gangs.

'We hope that Iran, which has extended support to the Hamas-led government, will not spare any effort to help Palestinians in Iraq,' the Palestinian diplomat said.

UNHCR has warned against a mass exodus of Palestinians from Iraq if pressure continues on them to leave. 'Frankly speaking, I don't rule out this eventuality,' Khairy said.