M A I N   N E W S

Yasser Arafat is no more
Ashish Kumar Sen  and agencies

Washington, November 11
Yasser Arafat, the embodiment of Palestinians’ struggle for an independent state, died at military hospital outside Paris on Thursday. The Palestinian president was 75.

“This is a black day in our history, and we grieve today for the death of our president,” said Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat, who first made the death public.

Arafat died almost two weeks after being flown out of his besieged, cramped headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah to the Percy military hospital in Clamart, France. Doctors earlier this week ruled out cancer and poisoning as the ailing leader lapsed into a coma. On Tuesday he developed a brain haemorrhage that hastened his death.

Arafat’s body will be flown to Cairo for a state funeral, likely to be held on Thursday. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath, Arafat’s national security adviser Jibril Rajoub and three other top Palestinian officials were scheduled to go to Cairo later Thursday in order to make the necessary preparations for Mr Arafat’s funeral.

He will be buried at his headquarters compound, the Muqata, in Ramallah, where Israeli troops had confined him for the past two and half years.

Arafat had told aides he wanted to be buried at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, however, that wish was turned down by the Israeli government. Weighing in on the controversy, Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid last week said: “Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried, and not Arab terrorists.”

Mr Erekat said, “President Arafat will lie in state in Cairo for some hours, and then he will be flown from Cairo to Ramallah, directly, I think, in Egyptian choppers, and this will be the temporary burial place, because the day will come when we will have an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and President Arafat’s body will be moved to the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

Having single-handedly kept alive Palestinians’ hopes for an independent state for four decades, Arafat died having never achieved his life-long dream.

The Palestinian parliamentary speaker, Rawhi Fattuh, will take over as president of the Palestinian Authority until an election is held to fill the post.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia will head the Palestinian Authority while the Palestine Liberation Organisation will be run by its deputy, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Mr Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, quit the post of Prime Minister following a disagreement with Arafat.

RAMALLAH (WEST BANK): Palestinians reacted with tears and tributes to their leader’s death.

Palestinian flags at Arafat’s battered compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah were lowered to half staff. Television broadcast showed excerpts from the Quran with a picture of Arafat in the background.

In the Gaza Strip, mosques blared Quranic verses and children burned tires on the main streets, covering the skies in black smoke. People pasted posters of Arafat on building walls.

“He closed his eyes and his big heart stopped. He left for God but he is still among this great people,” said senior Arafat aide Tayeb Abdel Rahim, who broke into tears as he announced Arafat’s death.

“We will follow in your footsteps and we will continue in your line,” Abdel Rahim told reporters at Arafat’s Ramallah head quarters.

Palestinians in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp at Ain-el-Hilweh reacted to the news of Mr Arafat’s death with volleys of gunfire and wails of grief.



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