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Tears and Palestinian Pride at Arafat's Funeral  - 2004-11-14


Yasser Arafat's funeral began with humble prayers in Cairo Friday and ended with an almost triumphant procession, with a crowd of national leaders and monarchs following a horse-drawn guncarriage bearing the Palestinian leader's coffin.

The Grand Sheikh of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque Mohamed Sayed al-Tantawi said Mr. Arafat served his people all his life, until he faced his God with courage and honesty.

Arafat's widow and 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa, cried as they watched pallbearers lift the casket into a plane waiting to carry the former guerrilla fighter on his last journey home, to Ramallah in the West Bank.

The crowd of dignitaries stood silent as a military band played the Palestinian and Egyptian national anthems.

There was no public access to the high-security funeral, but the prayer service at a Cairo mosque and the procession were broadcast live by Egyptian television and relayed around the world.

A more emotional scene is expected in Ramallah, where large crowds have gathered near Mr. Arafat's tomb. The Palestinian leader was confined to his Ramallah headquarters for most of the last three years of his life, after Israel sharply restricted his freedom of movement.

The 75-year-old Palestinian leader died early Thursday at a French military hospital near Paris. Mr. Arafat's health declined rapidly after he left Ramallah for medical treatment two weeks ago, but there has been no definitive word on what was the nature of his illness, or what caused his death.

Egypt, where many believe Mr. Arafat was born, was chosen as the site for the funeral because many Arab leaders would have found it politically difficult to travel into Israeli-controlled Palestinian territory.

Information for this report is provided by AFP, AFP and Reuters.

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