Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last Friday pledged to continue Yasser Arafat’s struggle to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, as thousands of Palestinians marked the first anniversary of Arafat’s death.
‘I renew the pledge to continue on the path that he started and exert whatever efforts are needed to raise the flag of Palestine on the walls, the minarets and the churches of Jerusalem,’ Abbas told a rally by Arafat’s tomb in the Muqataa compound in Ramallah where Arafat spent his final years encircled by the Israeli army.
‘He had no dreams of having a palace in Palestine but only to have a grave in Jerusalem. God willing, he will be buried in Jerusalem.
‘We must continue the march together in keeping with the principles for which Abu Ammar (Arafat) became a martyr,’ Abbas added.
The rally was attended by top officials from major Palestinian factions and a handful of foreign diplomats in honour of Arafat, who died aged 75 having failed to realise his dream of a Palestinian state.
Abbas, like many in the crowd, wore the traditional Palestinian ‘keffiyeh’ scarf that became Arafat’s trademark.
Hundreds of pictures of Arafat were held by members of the emotional crowd.
‘The Israelis and some Westerners are trying to delete Arafat from our memory, but he will remain alive in our hearts,’ Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi said, a former Arafat adviser.
Abbas had earlier laid the foundation stone for a new mausoleum complex while Koranic verses were broadcast over loudspeakers.
Many shops in West Bank cities stayed closed, with portraits of Arafat adorning their shutters. Smaller ceremonies were held in Bethlehem and Hebron.
Three hundred masked men, some carrying assault rifles and other weapons, marched in tribute to Arafat through the village of Dura near Hebron, waving Arafat posters and Palestinian flags.
In the Gaza Strip, a low-key memorial gathering was held on Thursday night.
‘Arafat led the Palestinian people for 40 years, and he has earned a place in history as the father of the Palestinian nation,’ said Palestinian Housing Minister Mohammed Ishtayeh.
Arafat’s nephew, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, rejected Israeli and US claims that Arafat was an impediment to peace. His uncle, he said, rejected offers of a bantustan.
‘Arafat wasn’t an obstacle for the peace process,’ insisted Al-Kidwa. ‘He was an obstacle to plans that were unacceptable to the Palestinians.’
The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, marked the occasion by calling for a new investigation into Arafat’s death.
A statement issued by Hamas stressed that ‘the fact that this issue has not been accorded the attention it deserves by the Palestinian Authority’ casts shadows of doubt that ‘some people may have an interest in the truth not being revealed and the mystery not being unravelled’.
The statement praised Arafat’s struggle for the freedom of his people and stressed that Arafat was put under siege and alleged he was later killed because of his insistence on the national constants, unity and holy places.
Meanwhile, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed faction linked to Abbas’ Fatah Movement founded by Arafat, alleged in a statement that ‘Arafat was poisoned by the Zionists with American shameless approval and world shameful silence.’
‘Abu Ammar remains the symbol of the Palestinian cause and our struggle for freedom,’ declared Nabil Abu Rudaynah, one of Arafat’s closest advisors and today Abbas’ official spokesman.
On the eve of the rally, Rudaynah told journalists that Arafat was a ‘historic figure whose memory will remain immemorial’.
He added: ‘We cannot talk about the history of the Palestinian people without talking about Arafat.
‘He managed to transform the Palestinian problem from a refugee problem into a national struggle of a people aspiring to independence.’
Rudaynah added: ‘Nothing has changed.
‘The occupation continues, Israel refuses to return to the negotiating table, and settlements and the building of the wall (separation barrier through the West Bank) continues.’
On Friday, PNA officials laid the cornerstone of a museum dedicated to Arafat in his compound, which will display some of his personal effects.
Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei hailed Arafat as ‘a true man of peace who signed all the agreements that we have respected’.
He said: ‘What he needed was a real partner on the Israeli side.
‘On the occasion of this anniversary, I want to say to our people that we remain faithful to Abu Ammar and the path he trod.’
Meanwhile, Israeli artillery shelled an open area in north Gaza on Friday after fighters fired a rocket into southern Israel. No damage or casualties were reported.
The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement that the firing of the missile at the Israeli settlement of Nahel Oz was in retaliation to the continuing Israeli occupation aggression against the Palestinian people.
In the West Bank, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades announced that they are no longer bound by the de facto truce, agreed earlier in the year by Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo, until Israel reciprocates.
Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the PFLP, said in a statement issued on Friday that they arrived at this position because Israeli occupation troops raided the Makhfeyya suburb of Nablus, terrorised the residents and arrested five of their activists.
The Brigades’ statement said that Sharon should know that we are still capable of striking at the depth of the Zionist entity.