"His body will be brought to Cairo today [Thursday]. The funeral will be held in Cairo and the burial will then be held in Ram Allah on Friday," head of Arafat's office in Ram Allah Tayib Abd al-Rahim said.  

 

"Our brother President Yasir Arafat has passed away at 4.30 (0230 GMT) this morning. Yasir Arafat has closed his eyes in this world and his soul has gone to its creator but he remains with this great people because he was the leader of this people," Abd al-Rahim said.

   

"Yasir Arafat has left us today, Yasir Arafat who was brought up in the streets of Jerusalem hoping to make it the capital of the independent Palestinian state and today he is getting closer to Jerusalem," Abd al-Rahim said, in tears, as he read a statement. 

 

Mourning

 

A 40-day mourning period has
begun in the Palestinian territories

Palestinian Liberation Organisation official Yasir Abd Rabbu announced a 40-day mourning period.   

 

Arafat was declared dead in a Paris hospital on Thursday.

 

"Arafat ... died at the military hospital Percy, Clamart on 11 November 2004, at 3.30 (0230 GMT)," Christian Estripeau, chief doctor and spokesman, said outside the hospital in a Paris suburb.

   

Arafat, 75, suffered a brain haemorrhage on Tuesday at the hospital where he was flown to from the West Bank on 29 October.

   

Palestinian officials said he had lain in a coma for about a week and that he had suffered liver and kidney failure.

 

Illness

   

French doctors have not said publicly what illness he was suffering from.

 

Palestinians unleashed gunfire on
hearing of Arafat's death

Palestinians regard him as a symbol of the struggle for an independent state.

   

On Wednesday, following his deteriorating condition, arrangements were made for a funeral in Cairo and burial at his West Bank headquarters.

   

Earth-moving equipment set to work digging up the grounds of Arafat's shell-shattered compound in Ram Allah, which was to be turned into a shrine to the icon of Palestinian nationalism.

 

In Gaza City on Thursday, dozens of Palestinians unleashed volleys of automatic rifle gunfire into the air after the announcement of their leader's death.

 

The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas offered its condolences.

 

Jihad tribute

 

Senior leader of the Islamic Jihad resistance group Nafez Azzam told Aljazeera that Arafat's death was "the most painful news for us as Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and all free people in the world".

 

"We in Islamic Jihad will make our best efforts to unite the Palestinians and to go on the same path which Arafat devoted his whole life for"

Nafez Azzam,
senior Islamic Jihad leader

"Arafat did not represent Fatah or Palestine only, but the voice of freedom against aggression and occupation,"  he said.  

 

During his 40-year struggle, Arafat's name had become a symbol for the Palestinians' resistance against the Israeli occupation, Azzam said, adding that these 40 years of struggle ended on Thursday.

 

"We had some disagreements," Azzam said. But with his death all these disagreements would be put aside, he said.

 

"We in Islamic Jihad will make our best efforts to unite the Palestinians and to go on the same path which Arafat devoted his whole life for," he said.  

 

"Despite out great sadness, we do not feel pessimistic. What is going on in Palestine indicates that the Palestinian people are strong and honourable, the Palestinian people are capable of continuing to hold their honourable flag and face the Israeli occupation, the Islamic Jihad leader said.