Following the announcement many Palestinians took to the streets on Thursday to pay their respects to the father of the Palestinian nation.
Mosques throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip began playing verses from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
Officials, dignitaries and ordinary Palestinians, many in tears, converged on the bombed-out headquarters of the deceased leader where the Palestinian flag was lowered and Quranic recitations were being played.
In Hebron, in the southern West Bank, motorists sounded their horns as youths took to the streets, vowing to “walk in Arafat’s footsteps”.
One speaker praised Arafat as the “Father of Palestine” and “leader of all free men and free women in the world”.
“We are believers, and we know that every human being will die, but I assure our struggling people that we are all Arafar. … Every Palestinian man, woman and child will be a Yasir Arafat.”
In Jerusalem, Quranic verses played over the loudspeakers of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
On Friday tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers are expected to perform a symbolic funeral prayer for Arafat despite restrictive Israeli measures.
Arafat was also mourned by Christian leaders in Jerusalem and the rest of the Palestinian homeland.
Archimandrite Att Allah Hanna, official spokesman of the Orthodox Church in East Jerusalem, called Arafat a “great Arab leader and clarion symbol of Arab dignity”.
“We are believers, and we know that every human being will die, but I assure our struggling people that we are all Arafat … . Every Palestinian man, woman and child will be a
Palestinian speaker in Hebron
In the Gaza Strip, thousands of people holding Arafat’s portraits aloft took to the streets as a cloud of smoke emitting from burned tyres hovered over the occupied territory.
Palestinian leaders from all political factions and orientations spoke about their commitment to national unity and determination to continue the march towards freedom and independence from Israeli occupation.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees met news of Arafat’s death with wails of grief and volleys of gunfire.
Forty days of mourning were declared across the country’s 12 Palestinian camps, once Arafat’s main launch pad for attacks on Israel until his Palestine Liberation Organisation was ousted in the 1982 Israeli invasion.
Tearful men, women, children and the elderly started spontaneous demonstrations at the news of the death of Abu Ammar, Arafat’s nom-de-guerre.
Palestinian refugees mourn
“Abu Ammar, you can rest now, we shall continue the struggle,” chanted a large crowd of mourners marching through the streets of the Ain al-Hilwah refugee camp.
Nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, according to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
In Jordan, the kingdom’s largest Palestinian refugee camp was draped in black and portraits of Arafat. He was seen as a father figure by most of the 120,000 inhabitants who arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Palestinian refugees came out on
“We are very shocked and saddened and hope that the interests of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause will be safeguarded,” Umar Khamiss, president of the Baqaa camp’s community centre, said.
Some 1.7 million Palestinian refugees live in 10 camps across the kingdom. Half its population of around 5.3 million is of Palestinian origin.
Official Arab government reaction was muted, although several countries announced three days of mourning and praised the work of a leader who fought for a Palestinian state for decades but never achieved it.
“Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian question and his absence will certainly be greatly felt,” Hossam Zaki, spokesman of the Arab League in Cairo, said.
“But to all those who think that his passing away will open all the doors for peace, we say that this is false and that the answers never really lay with the Palestinians as much as with the Israelis.”
Israel and the United States long accused Arafat of thwarting peace, but Arab commentators said this was a pretext.
“Israel and its supporters say the obstacle to peace that is Arafat has disappeared. This is untrue and unjust because [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon does not want to grant the Palestinian people their rights,” the daily al-Khaleej newspaper in the United Arab Emirates said.
Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen declared three days of mourning. Some called for Palestinian unity.
“The values and high virtues that Arafat embodied during his struggle for the Palestinian cause will inspire the Palestinian people”
Zin al-Abidin bin Ali,
Tunisian President Zin al-Abidin bin Ali said: “The values and high virtues that Arafat embodied during his struggle for the Palestinian cause will inspire the Palestinian people.”
The Egyptian president’s office said Arafat “led his people with courage”.
The Yemeni president’s office urged Palestinians “to unite during this difficult time to rob the enemies of Palestine of the chance to stir up differences”.
Randa Ashmawi, columnist with Egypt’s Al-Ahram Hebdo, said a “moderate” Palestinian leadership could emerge if Israel and the United States revived the peace process, but added: “If there is a deterioration, Hamas will take over.”
And Saudi newspaper commentator Hussain Shobokshi said: “The new Palestinian leadership will probably be more pragmatic. The only issue will be how they deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad – they might have to accommodate them in a government.”
No Kuwaiti reaction
On the other hand, Kuwaitis shed no tears over the death of Arafat, who had always refused to apologise for his support of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of the oil-rich Gulf state.
State-run TV and radio stations did not even interrupt their normal programming to make the announcement. They briefly reported his death during newscasts and continued with normal programming.
There still was no official reaction from the government by early afternoon.
Kuwait is the only Arab state not
Kuwait accused Arafat of supporting Saddam Hussein, who sent his troops to occupy Kuwait in August 1990, and had refused to mend fences with the Palestinians before an official apology from Arafat.
As much as Kuwaitis loved Arafat and supported the Palestinian cause before the 1990 invasion, they hated him afterwards and often charged that his hands were stained with Kuwaiti blood.
Hours before Arafat’s death, Kuwait’s Information Minister Muhammad Abu al-Hassan and several lawmakers recalled Arafat’s support for Saddam and branded him a “traitor”.
Nevertheless, Palestinians in the state mourned the loss of Arafat on Thursday.
Some 80,000 Palestinians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin live and work in Kuwait, down from more than 400,000 before the Iraqi invasion. The rest either fled during the invasion or were expelled from the country.