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November 11th, 2004, 02:16 AM
Arafat, Icon of Palestinian Cause, Dead at 75
Thu Nov 11, 2004 01:50 AM ET

By Wafa Amr

PARIS (Reuters) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who rose from guerrilla icon to Nobel peace prize-winner but ended up isolated and mired in conflict with Israel, died in a French hospital on Thursday, a spokesman said.

The announcement of the death of the 75-year-old president, who symbolized the Palestinian struggle for an independent state but failed to achieve it in his lifetime, ended days of rumors over his condition.

"Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, died at the military hospital Percy, Clamart on November 11, 2004, at 3.30 (2130 EST)," Christian Estripeau, chief doctor and hospital spokesman, said in the Paris suburb of Clamart.

Arafat had suffered a brain hemorrhage on Tuesday at the hospital where he was flown from the West Bank on Oct. 29 with an illness whose details have not been disclosed.

His body will be flown to Cairo for a ceremony on Friday and then to the West Bank city of Ramallah for burial at his battered headquarters on Saturday, Palestinian officials said.

Under Palestinian law, Arafat will be replaced as caretaker president of the Palestinian Authority by parliamentary speaker Rawhi Fattouh, who must organize elections within 60 days.

The autocratic Palestinian president died with his 40-year quest for a state unachieved, a succession scramble looming and Israel cementing its grip on occupied land with no peace talks under way.

Arafat's death, removing the man Israel called an impassable obstacle to peace, offered a chance for the first peace bid in years. But no potential successor wields his authority and fears are strong that infighting could hamper any peacemaking.

MOURNING PERIOD

The Palestinian Authority declared a 40-day mourning period in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where mosque loudspeakers blared the announcement along with verses from the Koran.

In Gaza, residents burst from their houses to fire guns into the air. People hugged one another, saying "Our father is dead." Taxis honked their horns and their drivers hung Arafat's picture on the front of their cars.

Dozens of armed Palestinians rallied in Gaza City. "It is a black day. I do not think the day Jerusalem was occupied was sadder than today," said Ahmed Sallam, 30, of Arafat's Fatah faction.

The militant Islamic group Hamas vowed to keep up attacks against Israel. "The loss of the great leader will increase our determination and steadfastness to continue Jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy until victory and liberation is achieved," a statement said.

In Ramallah, Palestinian flags flew at half-mast and Arafat's bodyguards wept and consoled each other.

There was no sorrow, though, among Israeli officials. "I hated him, not personally, but a deep hatred for a man who made terrorism a method in the world," Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Israel radio.

Opposition leader Shimon Peres, Arafat's fellow Nobel laureate, said: "Arafat's biggest mistake was when he turned to terrorism. His greatest achievements were when he tried to turn to peace."

Arafat held all the reins of power -- the Palestine Liberation Organization, the self-rule Palestinian Authority and the main Fatah political movement. But he groomed no successor.

French President Jacques Chirac said: "With him disappears a man of courage and conviction who for 40 years embodied the Palestinians' struggle for recognition of their national rights."

Chirac urged the international community to persevere with efforts to ensure an international peace plan known as the road map is put into effect in the Middle East.

SWIFT DEMISE

Arafat was a legendary survivor, escaping a 1970 Jordanian onslaught provoked by a partial PLO takeover of the country to launch attacks on Israel, a 1982 Israeli siege of his lair in Beirut and a 1992 plane crash in the Libyan desert.

But the demise of the charismatic leader, acclaimed by Palestinians as the father of their nationalist struggle but branded by most Israelis as a "face of terror," came swiftly and threw his people into shock.

Israel said on Wednesday it would permit Arafat's burial in Ramallah, where it had effectively confined him for over 2-1/2 years, and allow Arab leaders, even from states with which it remains officially at war, to attend.

Short and bald, sporting a permanent stubbly beard and a black and white Arab headdress, Arafat cut an unlikely figure as a guerrilla chief. He once told the United Nations he carried a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

In 1994, Arafat returned from exile in Tunis to head a self rule Palestinian Authority after interim peace deals. For those, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Peres, then Israeli foreign minister, and Yitzhak Rabin, who was Israel's prime minister.

But a peace summit in 2000 aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the two territories alongside a secure Israel collapsed in disputes over borders, sovereignty over Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees from wars since 1948.

Fighting resumed and Israel reoccupied or encircled West Bank cities amid a tide of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants.

(Additional reporting by Diala Saadeh, Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)

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Edward
November 11th, 2004, 10:59 AM
[BRIEFING.COM] News of Yasser Arafat's death has provided a lift to the stock market as pundits believe it should increase chances of peace in the Middle East and potentially remove fears of supply concerns in the region...