World leaders honor Arafat at Cairo ceremony

arafat sick 88 (photo credit: )
arafat sick 88
(photo credit: )
With a military march and a prayer, world leaders bade farewell to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in a formal ceremony in Cairo on Friday. Flags flew at half mast in the city where he was born and first took a political stand for his people. No crowds thronged the streets in support as the Egyptian government ordered the public to stay away, limiting the ceremony to its own officials, clerics, and visiting dignitaries. On the other side of the city, scores of people carrying photographs of Arafat and the Egyptian and Palestinian flags, demonstrated at the ancient Azhar Mosque, chanting: "Oh, Arafat, rest in peace. Await us at heaven's door," and "Yasser, Yasser... we are with you in the line of fire." Samia Mansour, a 30-year-old Egyptian among the demonstrators, said Arab leaders did not want a people's funeral for Arafat because they were jealous: "Arafat was the last Arab leader the people would want to march out in the streets for." The scene was more sober and formal in the Galaa Mosque, where Arafat's coffin lay. Leaders hugged one another and shook hands. "He has served his people all his life, until he faced his God, with courage and honesty. Let us pray for his soul," said the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, who delivered the sole eulogy. In spite of their checkered relationship with Arafat, high-level Arab leaders came to his funeral, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Bashar Assad of Syria. It was the first time since Israel had confined Arafat to his compound in Ramallah in December of 2001 that he was so publicly honored. Hamas leader Khaled Mashall, who publicly accused Israel of killing Arafat, also attended the Palestinian leader's funeral, in a rare public appearance for a man believed to be a walking target of the IDF. European countries paid more heed to his history of violence, by sending mainly Foreign Ministers. The European Union sent its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. The United States, which holds Arafat responsible for the failure of the Oslo Agreement, was represented by Assistant Secretary for Near-Eastern Affairs William Burns. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with members of the Palestinian delegation including former Prime Ministers Mahmoud Abbas and the new PLO Chairman Farouk Kaddoumi greeted the visitors. Several hundred mourners then walked slowly behind the body as it was led by a black horse-drawn military carriage outside the mosque to the nearby military airstrip. An Egyptian honor guard then slowly marched the coffin onto a plane. His body was then flown to Ramallah via Sinai for burial. The only Israelis to attend the ceremony were Hadash MKs Muhammad Barakei, Issam Mahoul, and Ahmed Tibi. All requests from Israeli journalists for visas into Egypt to cover the ceremony were denied. Yoav Stern of Haaretz who had a pre-existing visa was the only journalist with an Israeli passport who entered the country. But when he appeared at the press center seeking press credentials, he was denied. A press officer told him that while all his documentation had been properly filed, they weren't letting in Israeli journalists. But even the journalists who rushed to Cairo from all over the world weren't allowed into the mosque and were instead sent to a side section. In some cases even reporters with valid identifications were not allowed into the gates of the military compound. The only broadcasting media allowed entry into the mosque itself was Egyptian TV, which ran the ceremony live. AP contributed to this report. Originally published November 14, 2004