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When the Palestinian militia leader is asked about Canada, he says he respects the Canadian flag and is grateful for a $20,000 federal grant to a computer centre at his refugee camp.

Then he threatens violent attacks against Canadian cities, if Ottawa keeps offering to allow Palestinian refugees to move to Canada.

"If Canada is serious about resettlement, you could expect military attacks in Ottawa or Montreal," said Hussum Khader, head of the largest Palestinian Fatah militia in this West Bank city.

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He repeats this vow evenly, without apparent anger, when queried further about it: "Resettlement would be a catastrophe for the Palestinian nation. This is the issue we've been fighting for 50 years." Canada is hardly a major player in the Middle East. But the rancour among many Palestinian refugees toward Ottawa is palpable.

That may have been reflected yesterday when bullets were fired at a Canadian diplomatic automobile on the West Bank, although it more likely was a random attack, something that's become terrifyingly common lately as violence continues between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last month, about 400 protesters marched through a refugee camp in Nablus, firing shots in the air and burning an effigy of Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley. "We refuse resettlement of refugees," they chanted.

Mr. Manley sparked the uproar when he confirmed he is willing to allow Palestinian refugees to resettle in Canada if such a plan is approved as part of a Middle East peace agreement. He did not disclose the number of refugees who would move, but figures of 10,000 to 15,000 have been mentioned by Canadian and Israeli analysts.

For many of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees, any talk of resettlement is a betrayal of their lifelong goal: to return to what is now Israel. By resettling refugees, they say, Canada would be weakening the Palestinian right of return to the homes from which they were expelled or fled when Israel was founded in 1948.

The backlash against Mr. Manley's offer has exposed the dangers of Canada's well-intentioned efforts to help the Palestinians. In the swamp of Mideast politics, almost any move, even a humanitarian one, can sink into quicksand.

Canada is trying to walk a careful line: Providing aid to impoverished refugees, while also contributing to a peace deal and respecting the political demands of all parties in the now-suspended peace negotiations. Ottawa's comments on the refugee issue are always carefully scrutinized because Canada heads an international committee, the Refugee Working Group, which is seeking to resolve the refugee problem.

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When the effigy of Mr. Manley was torched last month, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department insisted it was merely "an isolated incident" that did not reflect the Palestinian view of Canada. But a week later, according to news agency reports, a separate group of 2,000 refugees burned the Canadian flag during another protest.

While some refugees might be willing to resettle in Canada, especially younger Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon who have little hope of ever returning to Israel, most ordinary refugees in Nablus are clearly opposed to any notion of resettlement.

Many have signed a form in which they "swear under oath by the almighty God and the blood of the martyrs" to never relinquish their right to return home. They also "strictly reject any kind of resettlement," the form says.

Mr. Khader, who also heads a refugee-rights committee in Nablus, said he refused to burn the Canadian flag because of his respect for Canada. But he spearheaded the protest in which Mr. Manley was burned in effigy.

"We appreciate Canada's humanitarian help, but this means nothing compared to a political issue. If you destroy my political rights, it is very dangerous."

Asked again whether there is a serious chance of violent attacks in Canada over the refugee issue, he replied: "Anything is possible."

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The Foreign Affairs Department maintains that some Palestinians have misunderstood Mr. Manley's comments. "Canada believes that the refugee issue must be solved through bilateral negotiations among the parties," said Valerie Noftle, a departmental spokeswoman.

Speaking privately, another Canadian official said the effigy-burning was organized by a "small group" who "know the rules of political theatre."

Mr. Manley's comments were "manipulated" by radical leaders, the official added. "This is a polarized, hot environment, and there's a huge conspiratorial mindset here."

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