Arafat’s Closest Aides Say Goodbye
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ After Yasser Arafat’s chaotic burial, his bodyguards ringed the freshly dug grave Friday for what was to have been an orderly military salute.
Overcome by emotion, they quickly lost control, hugging, crying and firing wildly in the air in a tribute to the man they had followed through wars, uprisings and his return from exile.
While Arafat’s burial Friday unleashed a wave of emotion throughout the Palestinian territories, the loss of the longtime leader was especially hard for those who worked closely with him.
Hours after the ceremony, his aides openly wept, his guards called him a father figure, and Palestinian journalists whose coverage had sometimes angered Arafat got caught up in the emotions of the moment.
``This is not an easy thing for the Palestinian people,″ said Rami Yasser, a 25-year-old electrician who was working on the lighting outside the compound.
Arafat was buried at the compound where he spent his last years as a virtual prisoner, seen off in a huge and chaotic ceremony. Police fired wildly in the air in futile efforts to restore order.
By nightfall, most of the crowd had dispersed and a soothing calm enveloped the area as mourners solemnly streamed past his grave.
The marble-and-stone shrine was covered in a colorful mountain of flowers. At the head of the grave, a black and white keffiyeh, Arafat’s trademark headdress, was placed on an olive tree sapling near a large photo of Arafat. Palestinian flags were everywhere, and Muslim prayers wafted out of loudspeakers.
Soldiers held hands and stood in a circle around the grave, allowing mourners to pay their last respects.
``He was a brother to me. He was a leader. He was a friend. He was a father,″ Khaled Jarrar, 29, a soldier who protected Arafat for eight years, said tearfully. ``Today I feel like an orphan. I feel empty.″
Dozens of people calmly streamed past the grave throughout the evening, quietly reciting Muslim prayers for the dead. The mourners included ordinary Palestinians, top officials and international dignitaries.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top aide to Arafat, burst into tears as he passed the grave. Palestinian television journalists who spent years covering Arafat placed their equipment on the ground and went to the grave to pray.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana laid a wreath on the grave, saying he came with a message of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
``The most important thing that we can ask is that the dream become a reality and that is to have a state, and for that we have to work with the Palestinian people to make it a reality,″ he said.
Inside the compound, the new Palestinian leadership and relatives of Arafat greeted well-wishers. Huge posters of Arafat blowing kisses and making the victory sign were displayed, along with two large Palestinian flags and numerous smaller ones.
``The Palestinians have lost a very valuable and very precious leader,″ said Hani Shkoukani, 33. ``He was our symbol and now he’s gone.″