Accessibility links

Breaking News

Middle East: Amid Chaotic Scenes, Arafat Buried In Ramallah

Palestinians have paid a final farewell to Yasser Arafat, who was buried at his West Bank headquarters of Ramallah today. The Palestinian leader was laid to rest amid chaotic scenes, as thousands of mourners mobbed his coffin as it was carried on its final journey. Earlier, there was a funeral ceremony in Cairo, where foreign dignitaries paid their respects to the man who for decades was a symbol of the Palestinian resistance.

Prague, 12 November 2004 -- Hours before the burial, thousands of mourners burst into the walled compound of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, desperate to get close to the grave site.

Then, a huge cheer as the helicopter carrying Arafat's coffin landed.

"Welcome, welcome Abu Ammar! [Arafat]," the crowd shouted. "Welcome, old man!"

Then, chaos, as mourners quickly surrounded the helicopter.
Arafat's casket was lowered into a marble-and-stone grave as a Muslim cleric said prayers and poured soil from Jerusalem over the coffin.

Palestinian leaders appeared at the door of the aircraft, pleading for the crowd to move back to allow the coffin to be brought out.

Security guards fired into the air to keep the crowds back. Finally, after nearly half an hour, another cheer, as the coffin was brought out and placed on a vehicle.

Police climbed on top and held on tightly, as the coffin was carried through a dense crowd of mourners toward the grave site: "God is great! God is great!"

The chaotic, emotional scenes forced organizers to cancel a brief lying-in-state ceremony they had planned before the burial.

Arafat was buried ahead of time, his casket lowered into a marble-and-stone grave as a Muslim cleric said prayers and poured soil from Jerusalem over the coffin.

The commotion was in stark contrast to Arafat's military funeral earlier in the day in Cairo.

That ceremony drew presidents, royalty, and other dignitaries from around the world. But it was closed to the public, apparently for fear that too many people would come out to show their respect:

Arafat had spent his final three years confined to his Ramallah headquarters, only leaving when he fell seriously ill two weeks ago and was flown to France for treatment. The exact cause of his illness has still not been disclosed.

Since he died in Paris yesterday, Palestinians have named a collective leadership comprised mainly of veteran moderates in Arafat's circle.

There are hopes the Palestinian leader's passing will revive the peacemaking that Israel had ruled out as long as Arafat was in charge.

To the end, many of Arafat's critics -- and not just Israelis -- reviled him as a terrorist.

But today's outpouring of grief showed how much Arafat was revered by Palestinians as the man who embodied their aspirations for a homeland.

(news agencies/Kathleen Moore)