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Amid Gunfire and Chaos, Palestinians Bury Arafat

Instead, security officers slipped Arafat's body out of the coffin and quickly buried it -- draped in the Palestinian flag and the leader's signature black-and-white headdress -- in the limestone and black marble tomb that workmen had spent the previous night building beneath towering pine trees.

Bags of dirt from the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City had been sprinkled into the grave, a gesture that recalled Arafat's greatest failure -- securing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Even so, Palestinian officials said Arafat's tomb was constructed so that it could be moved to Jerusalem if the Palestinian dream is ever achieved.

In the middle of a sea of mourners, Palestinian security officers lift Yasser Arafat's coffin on top of a car in the presidential compound in Ramallah to transport it to the burial site. (Oleg Popov -- Reuters)

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As Arafat's remains disappeared into the tomb at about 3:05 p.m., masked militants and tearful security guards blasted the skies with gunfire, littering the grave site with spent bullet casings. Despite the stampeding crowds and the hundreds of bullets fired over the course of the afternoon, Palestinian medical officials said only nine people suffered slight injures.

Officials put Arafat's empty coffin, covered in wreaths of fall flowers, on display in the legislative chambers in the compound.

The contrasting ceremonies Friday underscored Arafat's role as a world leader on the one hand and a revolutionary icon on the other.

Even though the Palestinians do not have a state, he gave them a national identity, made them a political force on par with Arab countries in the region and transformed himself into a leader whose stature exceeded that of many Arab heads of state. He made himself and the Palestinian people a powerful force -- and often a thorn in the side -- in the neighboring states of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where about 2.5 million Palestinian refugees live. About 3.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While he symbolized the Palestinian dream of nationhood, many considered him one of its main obstacles. Arafat's refusal to tame Palestinian militant groups and disarm them, share power with his associates, implement political and security reforms and, most importantly, prevent suicide bombings against Israel led Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to refuse to negotiate with him.

With the Palestinians in full revolt against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Sharon launched a prolonged attack on the Palestinian Authority and its institutions, particularly official security forces and Palestinian militant groups.

In the end, the man who oversaw the growth of the Palestinian movement into an international force spent his last years watching the short-term chances for an independent Palestinian state diminish and the land on which it could be created shrink.

"If you look at the record over the last 10 years, there was tremendous disappointment in Arafat's state-building and peacemaking -- Arafat did not deliver according to the expectations of most of the Palestinian public," said Kahlil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and political analyst. "But today, people will put this aside and remember him for his incredibly important legacy as the father of Palestinian nationalism who represents the aspirations and symbolizes and embodies the Palestinian desire for independence and statehood."

Anderson reported from Jerusalem.

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