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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK
VIP treatment for Sinn Fein leader
Gareth Gordon
By Gareth Gordon
Political correspondent, BBC Northern Ireland

The man in the green checked shirt sitting two places to Gerry Adams's right probably isn't even a household name in his own town.

Dr Ayman Daragmeh is a relatively junior MP in the Palestinian parliament.

He was only representing Hamas on the Palestinian Legislative Council the day the Sinn Fein President came to Ramallah because so many senior Hamas representatives - including the speaker and the deputy prime minister - had been arrested by the Israelis.

Gerry Adams at the tomb of Yasser Arafat
Gerry Adams laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat

With a cheery face and ready handshake he certainly dosen't look like a terrorist - but that's exactly what Hamas is in the eyes of Israel, the EU and the US.

That is why his presence in the same room as Gerry Adams could yet cause the Sinn Fein President all kinds of problems, not least from the White House which is likely to take a dim view.

But then it didn't like Mr Adams's visit to Fidel Castro in Cuba either and his place in the vanguard of the Northern Ireland peace process hardly suffered.

He had to do what he thought was right, was Gerry Adams's answer to the inevitable questions afterwards - and if others chose to punish Sinn Fein because of it, that was their choice.

The punishment could come in the form of an extension of Sinn Fein's fund-raising ban in the US.

But Mr Adams seemed to shrug as he drove off to another stop on his brief tour of the West Bank.

Dr Daragmeh seemed oblivious to what all the fuss could possibly be about. Mr Adams, he said, was ''a freedom leader''.

If they haven't yet taken the road of peace Hamas have followed Sinn Fein in one way - their success at the polls in the last Palestinian elections has certainly changed the landscape - but not in a way the desperately poor citizens of towns like Ramallah would have liked.

VIP treatment

Hamas's subsequent failure to renounce violence has led the EU to cut off aid.

So a very poor area has just got even poorer. Even the professional classes are feeling the pinch. It's been so long since they were paid that they've gone on strike.

Mr Adams would like to have heard of their plight face-to-face with the president Mahmoud Abbas.

But the president was called away unexpectedly to help negotiate the release of a captured Israeli soldier in another troubled Palestinian area, Gaza. Mr Adams had to make do with a phone call.

But he was able to lay a wreath at the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat, the man who first invited him to the Middle East.

In Ramallah he was treated as a VIP - sirens blaring he was driven through the streets in a presidential-style cavalcade.

It was in marked contrast to his reception on the Israeli side where the government refused to see him - because of his Hamas meeting - though they did help to facilitate the trip.

Mr Adams said he had feared they would prove more difficult than they had been.

He left saying he would be happy if he had delivered a bit more hope into the situation.

But hope seems in very short supply here. The West Bank seems desperate compared to the relative Western-style opulence on the Israeli side.

He will return to a northern Irish peace process - imperfect as it is - which is light years ahead of anything which exists in Ramallah.




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