- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

JERUSALEM — Israel is determined to keep Yasser Arafat out of Jerusalem even in death, with one Cabinet minister saying yesterday that the holy city is reserved for the burial of Jewish kings, “not Arab terrorists.”

Palestinian officials said publicly that it is inappropriate to talk about funeral arrangements as long as their 75-year-old leader clings to life at a Paris hospital. A hospital spokesman said that Mr. Arafat was in a coma and “has not gotten worse.”

One official said Palestinian leaders are hoping to enlist international support for a burial at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, which was built on the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples.

The top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem weighed in for the first time yesterday, saying Mr. Arafat requested burial near Al Aqsa when the two met four months ago. The comments by the mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrima Sabri, marked the first official comment on Mr. Arafat’s burial wishes.

The way the dispute is resolved could signal how Israel and the emerging Palestinian leadership — Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas — will get along in the future.

Mr. Arafat is reviled by many Israelis, and seeing him interred near Judaism’s holiest site would draw public outrage. Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Mr. Arafat “will not be buried in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried and not Arab terrorists.”

His blunt remarks came despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s order to government officials to keep a low profile and avoid antagonizing the Palestinians.

However, Mr. Sharon himself told his Cabinet last week that he would not permit Mr. Arafat, his longtime nemesis, to be buried in Jerusalem.

It is not clear whether Mr. Arafat has left a written will, and Mr. Sabri said he is not aware of one.

He said the Palestinian leader told him “he has a desire to be buried in Jerusalem, near the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

Israeli security officials said Gaza was the only burial option. Even a compromise initially floated by army planners — interment in the West Bank suburb of Abu Dis, which offers a view of Al Aqsa — has since been ruled out by the military.

Army officials also oppose burial elsewhere in the West Bank, in part because Palestinian security forces would have trouble protecting the large numbers of foreign dignitaries expected for the event.

Israeli military officials said they would ease travel restrictions on Palestinians during the funeral, but if the burial is in Gaza, only officials — and not the general public — will be allowed to travel there from the West Bank to attend. If the funeral is in Ramallah, the Palestinian public will be allowed to participate, but will have to endure rigorous checks at roadblocks, the officials said.

Rival Palestinian groups, including Islamic militants, gathered yesterday in Gaza in a show of unity they hoped would prevent the region from spiraling into further violence in the face of Mr. Arafat’s dire condition.

Mr. Arafat’s clan, the Al-Kidwas, are originally from Gaza, though the Palestinian leader grew up in Jerusalem and Cairo. The family has a small plot of 25-to-30 graves in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. The overgrown patch is in the middle of a busy vegetable market and would not be considered appropriate.

Other burial options include a seaside plot next to his old headquarters in Gaza City, or Gaza City’s “martyrs’ cemetery” east of the city, close to Israel.

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