Little affection in Ramallah for the wife who put Paris before Palestinians

Yasser Arafat's wife Suha was given short shrift by women in one of the poorest districts of this West Bank city yesterday. "She's too young for him," said Sumeia Taha, 55. "She married him for his wealth "She wants the money, to inherit what he has," added Mrs Taha. "She's a Christian, not a Muslim like we are. When he was under siege she ran away. If she was a real Palestinian she would stay with her husband until he dies. She should not get a penny when he dies. Arafat and all his wealth belong to the Palestinian people because she left him."

Yasser Arafat's wife Suha was given short shrift by women in one of the poorest districts of this West Bank city yesterday. "She's too young for him," said Sumeia Taha, 55. "She married him for his wealth "She wants the money, to inherit what he has," added Mrs Taha. "She's a Christian, not a Muslim like we are. When he was under siege she ran away. If she was a real Palestinian she would stay with her husband until he dies. She should not get a penny when he dies. Arafat and all his wealth belong to the Palestinian people because she left him."

Mrs Arafat has been largely out of the spotlight after basing herself in Paris with the couple's nine-year-old daughter, Zahwa from the beginning of the Palestinian uprising four years ago. She was 28 when she surprised friends and neighbours by marrying Mr Arafat in November 1991. A Palestinian Christian, who had two sisters married to PLO officials, she went to a convent school and is fluent in French, English and Arabic. She had worked for two years as Mr Arafat's secretary. She was once reported as telling an Arab newspaper that if she had a son she would regard it as an "honour" to sacrifice him to the Palestinian cause In 1999, she embarrassed Hillary Clinton, who was running for senate, by accusing Israel in a speech of using poison gas on Palestinians and increasing cancer rates. In her book, Mrs Clinton referred to the hug and kiss from Suha Arafat as the "worst" mistake of her senatorial campaign.

Her father was a banker and her mother, Raymonda Tawil, is a well-known Palestinian activist. Suha Arafat's fondness for expensive designer clothers and for driving a BMW round the impoverished and overcrwoded streets of Gaza-where she refused to wear a traditional Islamiic head covering-when she lived there with her husband in the 1990s has long been a matter of public comment among Palestinians.

Demonstrations yesterday in Ramallah against Mrs Arafat's nocturnal outburst by Fatah loyalists - including three women who turned up outside the Muqata compound bearing a banner proclaiming: "Suha who are you to address the Palestinian people? " were clearly organised. One of the women, Fatmeh Faqih, 32 declared "She lives in hotels. We live in ditches."

But the matriarchs of Amari refugee camp were spontaneous in their criticisms As Mrs Taha surveyed one of the dilapidated main streets in a camp which the UN said earlier this year was characterised by "overcrowding, poor sewerage and water networks," she added: "We need some of the money here. They should spend it on the camp.". While almost as scathing about Mrs Arafat, Amina Salhiya 75, citing widespread charges of corruption equally condemned the Palestinian leaders now at odds with her. "We don't know the truth, or who to believe." Using the familiar nom de guerre Mr Arafat gave himself when he in was Kuwait forming Fatah 45 years ago, she asked "Is Abu Ammar alive or dead?" She declared: "The [Palestinian] Authority are all thieves, traitors and greedy people, except Abu Ammar who is a good leader, poor man. Suha is greedy too. They have all eaten the egg, shell and all."

The local barber, Muhammed Hamad, was inclined to give Suha Arafat some benefit of the doubt while echoing the complaint about being kept in the dark about Mr Arafat's'condition.

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