Arafat’s Body Arrives in West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ A helicopter carrying the body of Yasser Arafat landed Friday amid chaotic scenes in his West Bank headquarters compound where he spent his final years as a virtual prisoner. Thousands of emotional Palestinian mourners swarmed the aircraft and police struggled to hold them back by firing their weapons in the air.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tried to emerge from the helicopter, but was kept back by the huge crowd, which had broken through the walls of the site hours earlier to pay their final respects to the man who embodied their dreams of statehood.
As Arafat’s helicopter landed following a state funeral in Egypt attended by leaders and dignitaries from about 60 countries, the crowd cried out ``Welcome, welcome Abu Ammar!″ using his nom de guerre. ``Welcome, welcome old man!″
Armed policemen had tried for several hours to keep people back, but mourners, eager to get close to Arafat’s gravesite, pushed their way through. Police in green berets scrambled to keep people off the helicopter landing pad.
Buildings and windshields in the West Bank were plastered with Arafat’s photo and people waved black and white scarves, the colors of the late leader’s Fatah movement.
Before the helicopters arrived, a line of militants carrying swords and rifles, their heads wrapped in black and white keffiyehs, marched through the crowd.
In Gaza City, hundreds of people gathered on rooftops, streets and apartment balconies in hopes of catching a glimpse of Arafat’s helicopter. Barred from attending Arafat’s burial, tens of thousands of Gaza residents held rallies and symbolic funerals across the strip.
A small group of masked gunmen marched into the compound, ignoring calls from official Palestine TV not to carry arms or mask faces, as is common in Palestinian funerals during times of crisis. However, the gunmen calmly submitted to inspection by plainclothes security personnel who ensured there were no bullets in the chambers.