M A I N   N E W S

Top cleric rushes to see Arafat
Burial plans afoot in Ramallah
Wafa Amr

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei attends a meeting beside the empty chair of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei attends a meeting beside the empty chair of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday. — Reuters photo

Paris, November 10
A top Muslim cleric rushed to Yasser Arafat’s bedside in a French hospital today, insisting the veteran Palestinian leader was still alive, even as aides pushed ahead with burial preparations.

Mr Arafat, 75, suffered a brain haemorrhage yesterday at the hospital where he was flown from the West Bank on October 29 and had been in coma.

Officials maintained in public that he was alive, though aides said privately that he was dead.

Palestinian sources said Mr Arafat’s death could be announced any moment and arrangements were being hastily made for a funeral in Cairo and burial at his West Bank headquarters.

Earth-moving equipment was set to work digging up the grounds of Mr Arafat’s shell-shattered compound, which was to be turned into a shrine to the icon of Palestinian nationalism.

But adding to the confusion, Sheikh Tayseer al-Tamimi, a leading West Bank cleric, told reporters after seeing Mr Arafat at the hospital in a Paris suburb: “He is sick and his condition is very difficult but he remains alive.”

“As long as there is a manifestation of life present, from movement to temperature in the body, then he is alive,” said Mr Tamimi, who read Koranic verses at his bedside.

But the Palestinian Authority and Israel were preparing for the burial of the man who led the Palestinian nationalist cause for four decades.

Defusing a potential row with the caretaker Palestinian leadership, Israel agreed to allow Mr Arafat to be interred at his battered compound in Ramallah and to let Arab leaders to attend if they wished, Israeli political sources said.

Mr Arafat would be laid to rest with his dream of a Palestinian state unrealised, a possible succession battle brewing and the threat of chaos in Palestinian territories looming.

Palestinian leaders huddled in Ramallah debating their political future, while ordinary Palestinians asked what was going on. “Is he dead or not dead”, asked Ali Zaituna in the Gaza Strip. “We will only believe it when a Palestinian official appears and says it.”

Leaders return home

Three senior officials — Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary General Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath — returned from Paris on Wednesday after visiting the French hospital.

At a leadership meeting, they reaffirmed that after Mr Arafat’s death they would follow Palestinian Authority laws calling for Parliament Speaker Rawhi Fattouh to become interim president for 60 days until elections could be held.

Most of Mr Arafat’s powers have already been take over by Mr Qurie and Mr Abbas, both leading moderates.

Officials said the Palestinian leadership had also decided that Mr Arafat would lie in state in Cairo for a brief ceremony after his death. Mr Arafat’s aides said his wife and deputies were phoning Arab leaders expected to attend a Cairo funeral, which would be followed by burial at the Ramallah compound where he had been effectively confined by Israeli troops for 2-1/2 years.

Palestinian officials said a funeral, which the Egyptian Government planned to hold at Cairo’s airport, could be as early as Thursday and burial on Friday. After ruling out the burial in the holy city of Jerusalem that Mr Arafat wanted, Israeli officials had said they would only allow him to be interred in the fenced-in Gaza Strip.

But signalling that Israel wanted to avoid raising Palestinian hackles at a time of mourning by insisting on Gaza, Deputy Internal Security Minister Yaacov Edri told the Army Radio: “This is, after all, a very extraordinary and unique funeral, and we will have to conduct ourselves like a responsible government.”

Israeli political sources said ministers decided to allow Arab leaders and other foreign dignitaries free access to Ramallah but would bar Palestinian militants waging a four-year-old uprising from entering the city. Much of the West Bank is under Israeli occupation. Israeli security forces, on alert amid concerns Mr Arafat’s death might touch off violent Palestinian protest or stepped-up militant attacks, planned to ring Ramallah for the burial.

Mr Arafat signed interim peace deals with Israel in 1993, returning from exile to head a self-rule government in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle-East war. But those agreements have been shredded by the past four years of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Israel and its chief ally the United States, had tried to isolate Mr Arafat, accusing him of fomenting bloodshed, an allegation he always denied. — Reuters


HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |