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Yasser Arafat dies in Paris

Posted by By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer on 2004/11/11 | Views: 410 |

Yasser Arafat dies in Paris


Founder of Palestinian national movement, longtime PLO leader, dead at 75.

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Yasser Arafat (news - web sites), who triumphantly forced his people's plight into the world spotlight but failed to achieve his lifelong quest for Palestinian statehood, died Thursday at age 75.

The French military hospital where he had been treated for nearly a month said he died at 3:30 a.m. The Palestinian leader spent his final days there in a coma.


Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat and Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top Arafat aide, confirmed that Arafat died in a conversation with reporters at Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.


Arafat's last days were as murky and dramatic as his life. Flown to France on Oct. 29 after nearly three years of being penned in his West Bank headquarters by Israeli tanks, he initially improved but then sharply deteriorated as rumors swirled about his illness.


Top Palestinian officials flew in to check on their leader while Arafat's 41-year-old wife, Suha, publicly accused them of trying to usurp his powers. Ordinary Palestinians prayed for his well being, but expressed deep frustration over his failure to improve their lives.


Arafat's failure to groom a successor complicated his passing, raising the danger of factional conflict among Palestinians.


A visual constant in his checkered keffiyeh headdress, Arafat kept the Palestinians' cause at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But he fell short of creating a Palestinian state, and, along with other secular Arab leaders of his generation, he saw his influence weakened by the rise of radical Islam in recent years.


Revered by his own people, Arafat was reviled by others. He was accused of secretly fomenting attacks on Israelis while proclaiming brotherhood and claiming to have put terrorism aside. Many Israelis felt the paunchy 5-foot, 2-inch Palestinian's real goal remained the destruction of the Jewish state.


Arafat became one of the world's most familiar faces after addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1974, when he entered the chamber wearing a holster and carrying a sprig. "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun," he said. "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."


Two decades later, he shook hand at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (news - web sites) on a peace deal that formally recognized Israel's right to exist while granting the Palestinians limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (news - web sites). The pact led to the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Arafat, Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.


But the accord quickly unraveled amid mutual suspicions and accusations of treaty violations, and a new round of violence that erupted in the fall of 2000 has killed some 4,000 people, three-quarters of them Palestinian.


The Israeli and U.S. governments said Arafat deserved much of the blame for the derailing of the peace process. Even many of his own people began whispering against Arafat, expressing disgruntlement over corruption, lawlessness and a bad economy in the Palestinian areas.


A resilient survivor of war with Israel, assassination attempts and even a plane crash, Arafat was born Rahman Abdel-Raouf Arafat Al-Qudwa on Aug. 4, 1929, the fifth of seven children of a Palestinian merchant killed in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. There is disagreement whether he was born in Gaza or in Cairo, Egypt.


Educated as an engineer in Egypt, Arafat served in the Egyptian army and then started a contracting firm in Kuwait. It was there that he founded the Fatah (news - web sites) movement, which became the core of the Palestine Liberation Organization (news - web sites).


After the Arabs' humbling defeat by Israel in the six-day war of 1967, the PLO thrust itself on the world's front pages by sending its gunmen out to hijack airplanes, machine gun airports and seize Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics (news - web sites).


"As long as the world saw Palestinians as no more than refugees standing in line for U.N. rations, it was not likely to respect them. Now that the Palestinians carry rifles the situation has changed," Arafat explained.


Arafat's failure to groom a successor complicated his passing, raising the danger of factional conflict among Palestinians.


A visual constant in his checkered keffiyeh headdress, Arafat kept the Palestinians' cause at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But he fell short of creating a Palestinian state, and, along with other secular Arab leaders of his generation, he saw his influence weakened by the rise of radical Islam in recent years.

Arafat became one of the world's most familiar faces after addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1974, when he entered the chamber wearing a holster and carrying a sprig. "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun," he said. "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

Two decades later, he shook hand at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on a peace deal that formally recognized Israel's right to exist while granting the Palestinians limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The pact led to the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Arafat, Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

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