Arafat to be buried at his West Bank headquarters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yasser Arafat will be buried at the battered West Bank headquarters that had been his virtual prison for the last three years, his aides decided after the deeply comatose Palestinian leader suffered another downturn.

Yasser Arafat will be buried at the battered West Bank headquarters that had been his virtual prison for the last three years, his aides decided after the deeply comatose Palestinian leader suffered another downturn.

The sandbagged compound, known as the Muqata, is seen by many Palestinians as a symbol of resistance to Israeli occupation, and Palestinian officials said it would be turned into a shrine.

Israel still has to sign off on the idea, which would defuse a potential conflict over where to bury Arafat.

Israel had been pushing for a Gaza burial, and the Palestinians wanted Jerusalem. Palestinians see Arafat's Ramallah headquarters as a symbol of his resistance and a burial there is less politically sensitive for Israel.

The Muqata is just a few miles from Jerusalem, and Palestinian officials said their leader could be reburied in the holy city in the future.

Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital, and Israel fears burying Arafat - leader of the Palestinian movement for four decades - in Jerusalem would have strengthened Palestinian claims to the city.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met early today with the heads of the security establishment to discuss the idea of a burial in Ramallah, government officials said. He was expected to convene his security Cabinet soon after to officially decide on the government's position.

Palestinian leaders returned to the West Bank early today, after rushing to Arafat's bedside in Paris for a firsthand look at his condition. For more than a week, Arafat's wife, Suha, had restricted access to her husband, causing a rift with his top lieutenants.

Meetings of Arafat's Fatah movement and the PLO executive committee to discuss a possible funeral and Palestinian succession issues if Arafat dies are planned for today.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told a news conference in Paris that Arafat's condition had worsened, but that his organs still function.

"He will live or die depending on his body's ability to resist and on the will of God," Shaath said.

Shaath, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the PLO's No. 2, Mahmoud Abbas are to hold more meetings in the Muqata this morning, among other things to consider an offer by Egypt to hold a memorial service for Arafat at the Arab League in Cairo ahead of a Ramallah burial.

Such a memorial service would allow foreign leaders to pay their respects without having to visit the West Bank, where the tattered Palestinian security forces might not be able to guarantee their safety.

A Cairo service would allow Arab leaders to attend the funeral without having to enter the Israeli-controlled West Bank. Most Arab countries do not have relations with the Jewish state.

The United States and Europe plan to refrain from sending heads of state to a funeral, opting instead to dispatch lower-level officials. European Union states are co-ordinating and are planning to send representatives at the ministerial level.

Last night Palestinians congregated in mosques and public places across the West Bank and Gaza for a holy night of worship, adding special prayers for their ailing leader.

The night of the 27th day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is known as Laylat Al Qadr, or the Night of Power, and Muslims spend the night in worship and devotion, praying for the souls of the dead.

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets, holding teary, spontaneous candlelight vigils. In Gaza City's Square of the Unknown Soldier, young men and members of Arafat's Fatah party gathered, lighting candles and praying for their stricken leader.

Comments