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Palestinian-Israeli Arafat

Clashes as Palestinians mark 15 years since death of Yasser Arafat

A Palestinian woman walks past a mural depicting late leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City
A Palestinian woman walks past a mural depicting late leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City Reuters/Mohammed Salem

Thousands of Palestinians marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat in the occupied West Bank on Monday. One man was reportedly killed in clashes with the Israeli forces.

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On November 11, 2004, Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, the man who embodied the Palestinian struggle for statehood for over 40 years, died in a hospital near Paris from a massive hemorrhagic stroke as per the released medical report.

His personal doctor Ashraf al-Kurdi and aide Bassam Abu Sharif both believed his death to be the cause of poisoning likely by Israel.

But Israeli continue to deny such claims.

Legacy of Arafat

Most people remember the iconic image of Arafat: a lightly bearded man wearing his keffiyeh scarf - the checkered black and white pattern that has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism – dressed in a safari suit.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1994
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1994 REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/Files

He was the man who represented the struggle of Palestinians for statehood through the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation founded in 1964.

Arafat joined the PLO in 1967 and by 1969 was its elected leader until his death in 2004.

At the time, the PLO was founded with the purpose of liberating Palestine through armed struggle.

For that reason, the PLO was considered by both the United States and Israel to be a terrorist organization.

A major mark of Arafat's legacy came out of the 1991 Madrid Conference and the 1993 Oslo Accords when the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and rejected “violence and terrorism”.

This culminated in the signing of the accords between 1993 and 1995 by the PLO, headed by Arafat, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the PA: a temporary self-governing body.

(L-R) Jordan's King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tour the White House Rose Garden on September 13, 1995 before ceremonies for the signing of an Isr
(L-R) Jordan's King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tour the White House Rose Garden on September 13, 1995 before ceremonies for the signing of an Isr AFP/J. David Ake

The accords also meant new conditions for the Palestinians to accept, such as giving-up more than 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli control and security coordination between Israel and the PA.

But what the accords never brought to the Palestinian people was the establishment of a state, which is why the legacy left by Arafat, culminating in these accords and a Nobel Peace Prize, is often believed to have been the death of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

Poisoning polemic

His mixed legacy was still met by a sense of loss following the announcement of his death in 2004.

Rumours of a possible poisoning lead to his body being exhumed in 2012 so separate teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators could collect samples to investigate them independently.

His widow, Suha Arafat, had called for the autopsy in the wake of findings from a Swiss laboratory that had reported polonium levels up to 18 times higher than expected.

Suha and Yasser Arafat on 29 October 2004
Suha and Yasser Arafat on 29 October 2004 Reuters/Hussein Hussein/Handout/Files

But the Swiss lab’s findings could not conclude that he was poisoned when he fell ill at his West Bank compound, but just simply an unexplained level of polonium.

French investigators later concluded in 2013 that his death was due to “old age following a generalized infection”.

Marking his anniversary

15 years on, Arafat’s death is being celebrated on Monday across Gaza and the West Bank as thousands took to the streets in his honour.

Clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli forces during the demonstrations, leaving one Palestinian dead in the Hebron area AFP has reported.

Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian president following Arafat’s death, laid a wreath at his tomb during a ceremony in Ramallah where hundreds gathered with pictures and flags.

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