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Arafat Will Be Buried in Ramallah

Decision Resolves Israeli-Palestinian Dispute; Cairo to Host State Funeral

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page A24

JERUSALEM, Nov. 10 -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who remained in a deep coma Wednesday at a hospital outside of Paris, will be buried at his battered headquarters compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem, following a state funeral in Cairo, according to Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian officials.

The announcements ended days of tense speculation that Israel might prohibit Arafat, 75, from being buried in the West Bank and force him to be interred instead in a small family plot in a cemetery in the southern Gaza Strip, which Palestinian leaders said was unacceptable.


Supporters of Yasser Arafat awaited word on the condition of the Palestinian leader Thursday near his Ramallah compound, known as the Mukata, where he will be interred. (Michael Robinson-Chavez -- The Washington Post)

_____Waiting in Ramallah_____
Photo Gallery: Palestinians outside Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah wait for word on their leader's condition.
_____Video_____
Aide to a top Islamic cleric comments on Arafat's condition.

A Palestinian cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, said Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, which has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance during the current uprising over Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, would be turned into "a major Palestinian shrine" after Arafat's body is buried there. Until he flew to France for medical treatment on Oct. 29, Arafat had not left the compound in more than 2 1/2 years.

Arafat slipped into a coma after his arrival at the Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart, a suburb of Paris, and on Tuesday he developed a brain hemorrhage. Leila Shahid, a Palestinian envoy, told France-Info radio Wednesday that Arafat was in the "final phase" of his life.

Taissir Dayut Tamimi, a senior Islamic cleric who heads the religious courts in the Palestinian territories, arrived at the hospital Wednesday to recite verses from the Koran at Arafat's bedside and was ready, if the Palestinian leader died, to prepare his body according to Islamic custom, Erekat said.

Before visiting Arafat, Tamimi told reporters at the hospital, "As long as there is a manifestation of life present, from movement to temperature in the body, then he is alive." Removing Arafat from life-support machines, he said, would be "forbidden under Islamic law."

When he emerged from the hospital, the cleric said: "I spent more than one hour next to the president and he is alive and well. . . . Yes, he is sick, and the situation is critical, but he is alive."

Under Islamic tradition, a person should be buried as soon as possible after dying, preferably within 24 hours.

According to his aides, Arafat longs to be buried in Jerusalem, which Palestinians and Israelis both claim as their capital. But Israel has controlled the city since annexing its eastern half after the 1967 Middle East war, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- who often refers to Jerusalem as Israel's eternal, undivided capital -- ruled out any burial for Arafat in "greater Jerusalem," which includes neighborhoods surrounding the city.

The choice of a burial site in Ramallah, which is about five miles north of Jerusalem, resolves a contentious issue between Israelis and Palestinians. On Wednesday, bulldozers and dump trucks were clearing and cleaning Arafat's compound, known as the Mukata, of old cars, barrels filled with cement and other objects strewn around as a defense against Israeli incursions.

The decision to hold a formal state funeral in the Egyptian capital -- where Arafat was born, although he often claimed Jerusalem as his birthplace -- also resolves several potentially thorny issues, particularly whether leaders of countries that do not recognize Israel would visit an area under Israeli occupation, and if they did, whether Palestinian security forces could guarantee their security.

An Israeli official, who declined to be quoted by name because of a government prohibition against speaking about funeral arrangements before Arafat dies, said Cairo was chosen for the funeral because the Palestinians "wanted a place where all Arab leaders could come without hindrance, and we said we can accommodate all the people who want to come, but no doubt the security situation is a deterrence for Arab leaders who don't want to go over Israeli roads and pass through Israeli checkpoints or whatever."

Foreign dignitaries would still be allowed to attend any service in Ramallah, he said, but Palestinian officials doubted many would.

Erekat said a delegation of Palestinians was scheduled to fly to Egypt on Wednesday night to discuss details of a funeral but that the general outline had been decided.

Special correspondent Maria Gabriella Bonetti in Clamart, France, contributed to this report.


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