Five Years Since Yasser Arafat’s Murder

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PALESTINIANS around the world marked the fifth anniversary of the death of President Yasser Arafat yesterday.

In the West Bank, where Arafat’s Fatah movement still rules, a mass celebration is planned. Thousands are expected to attend the event, which will take place at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah.

Mahmud Abbas, will deliver a speech in which he is expected to claim that Palestinians are seeking to achieve the goals Arafat spent his life pursuing.

Fatah has also accused the Hamas government in Gaza of banning activities marking the anniversary. Government officials in Gaza say that Fatah did not apply for the proper permits to hold its demonstrations.

Arafat was born on 29 August 1929.

In 2004, while besieged by the Israeli military in his Ramallah headquarters, he fell ill with flu-like symptoms and was flown to France for treatment.

He died in hospital outside of Paris on 11 November 2004. It was reported at the time that the ultimate cause of death was multiple organ failure.

Israel denied his wish to be buried in Jerusalem and he was instead laid to rest in a ‘temporary’ tomb in the Muqata, in Ramallah.

Five years on, the exact cause of Arafat’s death remains a mystery, and there is no shortage of theories.

Popular belief among Palestinians firmly holds that Israel, with the permission of the US, poisoned their leader.

At the time of his death, Arafat was besieged by the Israeli military in his Ramallah compound. Israeli officials also publicly contemplated killing him.

Then serving as Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told Israel Radio, on September 14 2003, ‘Arafat can no longer be a factor in what happens here.

‘Expulsion is certainly one of the options,’ he added, ‘Killing is also one of the options.’

Arafat’s nephew Nasser Al-Qudwa, who also served as Palestine’s representative to the UN summarised the ambiguity surrounding the death: ‘Each expert we consulted explained that even a simple poison produced by an average scientist would be difficult to identify by the most experienced scientists.

‘I can’t tell for sure that he was murdered by the Israelis.

‘I can’t refute that hypothesis because doctors couldn’t refute it.’

Further adding to speculation of a poisoning plot Al-Qudwa says that Arafat did not take safety precautions in his last months under siege in Ramallah.

Arafat never refused a visitor, his nephew says, and would accept gifts, including sweets and medicine, without testing them.

The Fatah movement in Gaza called on Hamas to immediately sign the Egyptian proposal for reconciliation and to implement its provisions, party officials said on Tuesday.

In a statement released to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the death of President Yasser Arafat, the Fatah movement in Gaza stressed that national dialogue is the only means to restore Palestinian national unity, calling on Hamas to sign the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation paper without delay.

Fatah’s statement assured the party’s adherence and commitment to the late leader’s political approach and the work of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The party further asserted its dedication to the Palestinian national cause which calls for an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capitol, the return of Palestinian refugees and the release of all prisoners and detainees, underscoring that the movement considers political detention a crime against the Palestinian people.

The statement released by Fatah continued to express condemnation for the recent change in the US’ stance of alleviating pressure on Israel to halt settlement growth and construction, and further articulated support for the Palestinian leadership in refusing to conduct peace talks before a settlement halt is enforced.

In addition, the movement stressed that President Mahmud Abbas is considered Fatah’s only candidate in the presidential elections and called on its members and institutions to rally around Abbas.

Fatah finally called on Fatah members and supporters, and the Palestinian people to commemorate the death of late president Arafat and to memorialise him.

However, President Mahmud Abbas is considering resigning from his roles on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee, Palestinian officials said on Tuesday.

The sources, who spoke on the condition that their names be withheld, also said that Abbas’ announcement last week that he will not seek re-election as president was a serious decision and not a political manoeuvre as analysts have said.

Abbas is also waiting for the appropriate moment to announce his resignation from the PLO and Fatah governing bodies, the sources added.

The sources said that this is what the president was alluding to in his speech last Thursday when he referred to making ‘the right decisions at the right moments.’

In a speech last Thursday Abbas said he had ‘no desire’ to stand for another term in an election that he scheduled for 24 January, citing frustrations with a year of stalemate in the peace process with Israel.

Analysts said the announcement was likely a tactic to get the US to apply more pressure on Israel to comply with its obligations to halt the expansion of West Bank settlements.

In an interview with The New York Times published on Monday, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas had lost faith in the Palestinian Authority as an institution.

‘He really doesn’t think there is a need to be president or to have the Palestinian Authority,’ the PLO chief was quoted as saying.

Framing the crisis as larger than mere politics, Erekat warned of far-reaching implications: ‘This is not about who is going to replace him. This is about our leaving our posts. You think anybody will stay after he leaves?

‘I think he is realising that he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state but he sees no state coming.’ Without that prospect, Abbas no longer feels relevant, Erekat added.

• The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed his fear that Israel no longer appears prepared to pursue negotiations in the Middle East, adding that Paris remains fervently opposed to settlement construction in the West Bank.

In an interview with France Inter radio, Kouchner elucidated that he did not anticipate a forthcoming breakthrough in peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

‘What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel. There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace,’ Kouchner said.

Kouchner added that, ‘It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it.’

Franco-Israeli relations have not always been comfortable, with France vociferously insisting on a halt to settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank.

Moreover, while the Obama administration lately relieved pressure on Israel over settlement building, reversing its initial demand for a total settlement freeze, Kouchner was adamant that France remained opposed to the issue.