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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 18:23 GMT
Israel plans for Arafat burial
Man cleans giant Arafat poster on a Hebron wall, 7 November
Arafat's funeral would be a huge world event
The Israeli government has made plans for Yasser Arafat to be buried in the Gaza Strip, against the ailing leader's reported wish for a grave in Jerusalem.

Palestinians would be allowed to cross from the West Bank and Arab leaders with no diplomatic ties with Israel would also be allowed to attend.

A senior Arafat official reacted to news of the Israeli plans by saying they were inappropriate.

Mr Arafat remains critically ill at a hospital in France.

The two top Palestinian officials, PLO acting chief Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei are flying to his bedside on Monday, officials said.

We can arrange it so that passage through the crossings is easy and simple
Avraham Poraz
Israeli interior minister

Christian Estripeau, a spokesman for the Percy military hospital outside Paris, told the BBC on Sunday he was aware of speculation about Mr Arafat's state of health.

However, he said he was unable to comment and, in accordance with the wishes of Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, he could only repeat the official hospital line that the Palestinian leader was not dead.

Earlier, Palestinian officials speculated that he might be suffering from liver failure while other reports said he had emerged from a coma.

In the nine days Yasser Arafat has been at the hospital, the cause of his illness has never been disclosed and rumours have continued to circulate that he has fallen into an irreversible coma, the BBC's Katya Adler reports from Paris.

'No problem'

Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said arrangements for a Gaza burial would not be difficult.

"We can arrange it so that passage through the crossings is easy and simple - and that's what will happen," he said.

His ministry, he said, would ensure there would be "no problem at all" with heads of state coming to Israel to visit the territories.

An Israeli government spokesman stressed it was only a contingency plan, and that they were waiting for the Palestinians to make an official request, but he said so far there had been no contact.

Israel is opposed to burying Mr Arafat in Jerusalem, with Justice Minister Yosef Lapid saying it is a city "where Jews bury their kings... not a city [for burying] an Arab terrorist".

Neglected cemetery

A Palestinian official told the BBC the Israeli plans were "rather outrageous" and said the Israelis were denying Mr Arafat his right to be buried in East Jerusalem.

Man cleans gravestone of Yasser Arafat's sister
Mourners would find it hard to cram into the Khan Younis cemetery

"For Israelis, the further away [he is buried], the better," said the official, who did not wish to be named.

He added that the Palestinians did not have any leverage in negotiations since, under Islamic traditions, Mr Arafat would have to be buried as quickly as possible.

A Palestinian minister, Saeb Erekat, said it was inappropriate to discuss the burial issue while Arafat was alive.

"I think it's not for the Israelis to decide and I would urge the Israelis to show some sensitivity," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Reports say Israel would prefer for Mr Arafat to be buried in his family plot in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis, particularly since it intends to pull out of Gaza next year and could distance itself from a potential place of pilgrimage.

However, the tiny cemetery where the leader's father and sister are buried is ankle-deep in rubbish and reeks of donkey dung from a neighbouring market, correspondents say.

"I don't want the president to be buried here," local butcher Saleh Zaourb, 48, told AFP news agency. "Other places would be more fitting - Jerusalem is the best place, otherwise Gaza City."


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