- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat was buried in a marble-and-stone tomb yesterday amid a multitude of Palestinian mourners, who surged around the flag-draped coffin as it arrived by helicopter from a state funeral in Cairo.

Plainclothes militants from Mr. Arafat’s Fatah party pumped machine gun fire into the air and the crowd chanted “God is great” at the partially destroyed compound where the Palestinian leader spent his final years under Israeli-imposed house arrest.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the frenzied outpouring was a fitting farewell.

“President Arafat would have wanted it this way, with exhilaration, feelings of loyalty, pain, sadness and love all at once,” Mrs. Ashrawi said. “The people reclaimed him. They wanted to say goodbye without distance.”

Just hours earlier, monarchs, heads of state and foreign ministers representing at least 40 countries joined Mr. Arafat’s widow, Suha, and their 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa, at a ceremony in a military mosque near the Cairo International Airport.

Then, a detail of Egyptian soldiers accompanied a black horse-drawn carriage through city streets that had been cordoned off from the general public.

The contrasting ceremonies following Mr. Arafat’s death at a hospital outside Paris on Thursday vividly illustrated the contradictions of Mr. Arafat’s four-decade career as both a leader and a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

He aspired to be seen as a peace-seeking statesman on one hand and as a militant revolutionary on the other.

He was despised by Israelis, who considered him a duplicitous terrorist.

The burial plot was filled with soil brought by a Muslim cleric from Jerusalem, the city which Palestinians claim as their future capital and hope will be the final resting place for Mr. Arafat.

At the grave site, uniformed soldiers sobbed with palms turned skyward in religious devotion while mourners trampled olive saplings nearby in a surge toward the tomb.

Before the helicopter landed, loyalists from Mr. Arafat’s Fatah party held a series of rallies that reflected the growing militancy among young Palestinians.

“Bin Laden, do it again,” the Fatah cadres yelled through red-and-blue megaphones. “And wipe out Israel.”

“There are some heroes among traitorous Arab leaders,” they yelled. “One is Saddam, and Arafat is another.”

When the Egyptian aircraft landed outside of the compound, known as the Muqata, the coffin remained inside for nearly a half-hour, held back by the crush outside.

While Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat yelled to the crowd to move back, armed guards fired guns into the air.

The coffin was then placed on the back of a small truck that parted the crowd as soldiers stood atop the vehicle waving Kalashnikov rifles.

At least nine persons were treated for bullet wounds and hundreds of others for injuries or fainting spells suffered in the crush of people.

Mourners chanted that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel “Sharon is a dog” and “With our blood and soul, we will redeem you, Abu Ammar,” using the Palestinian leader’s nickname.

Kneeling on the ground between cars to take cover from the volleys of gunshots, Manal Issa, a Palestinian human rights worker, said she had planned on bringing her two children to witness the ceremony, but relented at the last minute when a friend warned about the possible chaos.

“It is hard not to be at the farewell of such a great leader,” she said. “I wanted my kids to have the chance to be here, but as I told you, we’re a disorganized people, and it is very difficult to control the Fatah young men.”

The disorder of the funeral reflected the state of the Palestinian government that Mr. Arafat leaves behind — an authority that is unable to enforce the law and order.

The Palestinian leader shared the Nobel Peace Price for signing an accord of mutual recognition with Israel in 1993, but had lived under virtual house arrest in a battered headquarters after the collapse of the final peace settlement in 2000.

With a high-ranking U.S. official absent, the mourners in Cairo were led by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the newly appointed Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, Mahmoud Abbas.

Although Mr. Abbas appears to be the front-runner in planned elections to succeed Mr. Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, it is not clear whether he can win support from the rank and file. Many Palestinians dismiss Mr. Abbas as an ally of Israel.

The Israeli army deployed around the perimeter of Ramallah, sealing it off to prevent processions of mourners and militants from marching toward Jerusalem.

In the disputed capital, tension was high out of concern that Friday worship would erupt into clashes with police.

While Israeli Jewish peace activists attended the Ramallah funeral, no Israeli representative was on hand either here or in Cairo.

Israeli Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid said there was no point in sending a representative to pay respects to “somebody who murdered thousands of people.”

Dozens of Israeli Arabs were on hand to pay their respects to the figure who they too considered a leader.

“Even though we didn’t elect him, he’s a symbol of the tragedy of the Palestinian people,” said Jafar Farah, director of an Arab civil rights group. “He also symbolized the beginning of a solution.”

Paul Martin contributed to this report from Ramallah.

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