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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 23:29 GMT
Reporters' log: Palestinians lose leader
Yasser Arafat
Arafat: Both asset and liability for the Palestinian cause

The veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has died in Paris, aged 75, after several days in hospital. He led the Palestinian cause since the 1960s.

BBC correspondents record reaction from around the world to the news.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 2353GMT

Barely twelve hours after his death in Paris, Mr Arafat's body was returned to Cairo, the city of his birth. His widow, Suha, led the mourners as the coffin was carried in a short procession past a guard of honour.

Here in Cairo, Egyptians have expressed respect, but there was not much raw emotion. The funeral itself, described as a military ceremony, will be held in a military officers club. It was moved there at the last minute after fears about security and concern that it could attract huge crowds. At least twelve heads of state are due to attend, and many more prime ministers and foreign ministers.

Lucy Williamson :: Ramallah :: 2233GMT

After a day of quiet mourning and practical preparations, the streets around Arafat's compound, known as the mukata, have been filling with his supporters.

For much of the day, the activity was inside the compound walls as the new Palestinian leaders made arrangements to bury Arafat.

But as dusk fell, the candles were lit beside pictures of the man who came to symbolise the Palestinian struggle for statehood. Around them, groups of men sat cross-legged on the ground, chanting softly into the night.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 2206GMT

Yasser Arafat's coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, arrived at a military air base in Cairo a short time ago.

His widow, Suha, led the mourners as the coffin was carried past a guard of honour in a short procession. So, Mr Arafat's body has returned to the city of his birth, barely 12 hours after his death in a military hospital in Paris.

The funeral ceremony here in Cairo tomorrow will be held in a military officers club. At least 12 heads of state, numerous prime ministers and foreign ministers will be among those attending what is being described as a military funeral. But the public is being excluded, as the Egyptian government is apparently concerned of the risk of public disorder.

Susannah Price :: United Nations HQ, New York :: 2122GMT

The UN General Assembly held a minute of silence during the afternoon, and several speakers paid tribute to the Palestinian leader.

While the Palestinians only have observer status at the UN, Yasser Arafat had been granted the status of a head of state by the General Assembly. The members heard tributes on behalf of the African, Asian, Latin American, Arab, non-aligned and European states.

Dan Isaacs :: London :: 1954GMT

Leaders across Africa have been paying tribute to Yasser Arafat, seen by many on the continent as the hero of a liberation struggle with parallels to the campaigns of African nations against colonial oppression.

There is little doubt that to many in Africa, Arafat's death has been met with genuine sadness. Mr Arafat spent many years on the African continent during his long exile, with Tunisia as the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for more than a decade.

Nelson Mandela, regarded across the continent as the most respected voice of African liberation, described Mr Arafat as one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation, who gave his entire life to the cause of the Palestinian people.

Other African leaders added their fulsome tributes, with little hint of the controversy and frustrations felt in many western capitals over Mr Arafat's shortcomings as a political leader.

Alan Johnston :: Gaza :: 1824GMT

In the streets below me, black flags have been coming out and posters of Yasser Arafat erected on the walls. Shops, schools and offices have stayed closed. There is a real sense of sadness. Again and again, people talk of Yasser Arafat as having been the symbol of the Palestinian struggle. In life, he certainly had his critics here. But on the streets of Gaza City on this day, nobody was speaking badly of Yasser Arafat.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 1816GMT

Elements of an honour guard began taking their places at a Cairo airbase hours before the arrival of Yasser Arafat's body. But the plans for the funeral itself are still evolving. The Egyptian authorities say they have now moved the site of the ceremony from a mosque beside the international airport, apparently because of security concerns. Instead it will be held a to a military officers club in a suburb of Heliopolis.

As well as the religious ceremony there will be a military parade and Mr Arafat's body will be borne on a horse-drawn carriage. At least seven heads of state are expected to attend, as well as prime ministers, foreign ministers and a representative of the United Nations.

Cairo has been chosen as a compromise, avoiding the political and security complications of sending so many Arab and world leaders to the West Bank or Gaza. But Cairo is also where Yasser Arafat was born and spent many of his early years. He retained a special affection for Egypt throughout his life.

Richard Miron :: Jerusalem :: 1807GMT

Both condemned as a terrorist and welcomed as a partner for peace at different times, Yasser Arafat has been a significant presence for Israelis for decades. Without mentioning his political nemesis by name, Ariel Sharon has spoken of the meaning of his passing for Israel, saying that recent events are likely to constitute a turning-point in Middle Eastern history.

For many Israelis, the Palestinian leader was a symbol of violence, not statesmanship, who was responsible for countless deaths. Even for Israeli left-wingers, Yasser Arafat was a highly controversial and contradictory figure who flitted between violence and diplomacy in pursuit of his aims.

Leader of the opposition Labour Party Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him, said he found him a difficult negotiating partner and that although Arafat kept the Palestinian issue on the world agenda, he also did a great deal of harm.

And as Israel prepares to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, many here are hoping that the new political reality now offers the opportunity for the government to carry out its plan as part of a revitalised peace process.

Susannah Price :: United Nations HQ, New York :: 1756GMT

The UN secretary general called Yasser Arafat a symbol of national aspiration for Palestinians. He praised Mr Arafat's courage in accepting there would have to be two states living side by side and urged everyone to press for the achievement of that goal. The secretary general said there were positive signs that Palestinians were sorting out their leadership issues and there would be a solid Palestinian leadership to work with. Mr Annan is sending his special representative to the Middle East, Thierry Ruud Larsen, to Cairo to represent him at the funeral.

The UN flag is flying at half-mast at the New York headquarters and during the afternoon the UN General Assembly is paying its respects to Mr Arafat. Thirty years ago Mr Arafat became the first representative of a non-governmental organisation to address the General Assembly, telling members he had come with an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. The following year the PLO was given observer status at the UN.

The UN is part of a quartet which is working towards implementing the peace process known as the road-map. Officials said they hoping to take a fresh initiative on the road-map early next year and the death of Mr Arafat could even accelerate that process.

Lucy Williamson :: Ramallah :: 1745GMT

In the grounds of his compound bulldozers prepare Yasser Arafat's burial site and inside the buildings he once used, new Palestinian leaders have ended their first day in office. One of the first challenges facing them - elections for the post of Palestinian Authority president.

The worry for the transitional government is that the Israeli occupation will make it impossible to hold elections in the sixty day time limit set by the constitution. Without elections, any new leadership will struggle for legitimacy. But it's not just the support of the Palestinian people that the new president will need to gain. He or she will also need to hold together the many different Palestinian political groups. There's a danger that elections could highlight differences between the factions and splits within the main political party, Fatah.

But despite all the divisions, for now it seems all sides are keen to present a united front. But keeping unity over the longer term could prove more difficult. In the wake of Mr Arafat, personality is unlikely to be enough to keep the Palestinian nation together. And the big issues remain - relations with Israel, the creation of a future Palestinian state. The best chance now of keeping the Palestinian people united, many say, lies in resolving these issues. The trouble is they are also the issues that could lead to its fragmentation.

Caroline Wyatt :: Paris :: 1718GMT

As darkness descended on the runway, a French airbus disappeared into the Parisian night, taking Yasser Arafat on his final journey home. His body had arrived earlier by helicopter from the Percy Hospital to the military airfield at Villacoublay. There, the French prime minister and foreign minister stood with Mr Arafat's widow, Suha.

They watched as her husband's coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was borne aloft by a French military guard of honour. Then came the French national anthem, and the Palestinian anthem. Chopin's funeral march was played as the coffin was placed onto the waiting plane.

Barbara Plett :: Ramallah :: 1713GMT

Through the gate of his compound I can see the men digging the grave, they are working under large flood lights. They are also preparing a monument to mark his resting place there. There were crowds of people here earlier but at the moment it is much quieter. We have just had a break in the Ramadan fast and people have taken a break here to eat. We do expect others to gather here later this evening.

Lyse Doucet :: Ramallah :: 1704GMT

This is the end of an era, not just for the Palestinian people but for the middle east. In the last hour, in a coffin draped in a Palestinian flag, the remains of Yasser Arafat left Paris for Cairo. Here in Ramallah preparations are continuing for his funeral this weekend.

Throughout the day in the compound behind me the political leadership have been meeting, trying to fill the vacuum created by Arafat's death.

Rana Jawad :: Tripoli :: 1614GMT

Libyan authorities have declared a three day mourning period and the cancellation of all Eid celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan.

In the past, Colonel Gaddafi publicly backed political factions in the Palestinian territories, both morally and financially.

In the early 1990s the Libyan leader felt betrayed when Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords. The deportation of hundreds of Palestinians to the Egyptian border was ordered, where they were placed in makeshift camps for months.

This was a decisive moment in the friendship between the two leaders and cooperation seemed to deteriorate from then.

The Libyan population, on the whole, is a great sympathiser with the Palestinian cause. But over time, some felt that Libya's affiliation with Palestinian militants came at a high cost of their country's relations with the West.

Allan Little :: Villacoublay Airport, Paris :: 1608GMT

The aircraft is preparing to depart. The dignitaries have gone back inside the terminal building and Suha is now boarding the plane. She will be travelling with the body of her husband in that same aircraft.

The ceremony here was strikingly low key, understated, but nonetheless had a very clear sense that this was a state occasion.

Yasser Arafat was a stateless leader, the leader of a stateless people.

But France has signalled that, like the EU, like many in the Arab world, like the US and Britain, this represents something of an opportunity for the Middle East peace process.

Allan Little :: Villacoublay Airport, Paris :: 1550GMT

In the last few minutes the coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was brought off the helicopter and, to the refrain of a funeral march, passed before the eyes of the waiting dignitaries.

Among them were the French prime minister, the French foreign minister and a group of leading French Muslims - both clerics and lay leaders of France's large Muslim community.

Arafat's body was airlifted from Percy airport on Thursday afternoon

This is a simple but solemn ceremony through which the French intend to send a very clear signal to the world that Yasser Arafat is a man they regarded as having a just cause and who they regarded with affection and respect.

President Chirac this morning spoke of him as a man of courage and conviction - very warm and positive words and in stark contrast to those coming from the United States.

Katya Adler :: Percy Hospital, Paris :: 1527GMT

A communal shout has gone up from Arafat supporters at the hospital as they watch the helicopter bearing Yasser Arafat's body climb into the sky. They are screaming his name and waving pictures of him in the air.

There is a huge amount of emotion here as the leader of the Palestinians begins the journey back to his homeland.

Katya Adler :: Percy Hospital, Paris :: 1404GMT

There have been up to 200 Arafat supporters here at Percy Hospital, waving Palestinian flags, shouting out Arafat's name and chanting their support for Palestine.

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS
Thursday: French leaders pay respects before body is flown to Cairo, arriving late at night
Friday morning: State funeral at King Faisal Mosque near Cairo airport
Saturday: Body is interred in Ramallah compound in West Bank

They also shouted thanks to the French president and to the French people for giving the medical care to their leader.

At about midday President Chirac came here to the hospital and gave a statement. He stood with a number of Palestinian officials and Mr Arafat's wife inside the hospital compound.

He expressed France's condolences to Yasser Arafat's family and the Palestinian people.

Caroline Wyatt :: Paris :: 1355GMT

A 5.15 this morning, it was bitterly cold, dark and almost silent outside the Percy military hospital. Just a few candles still burned, illuminating posters of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian flags pasted to the walls by supporters who held a vigil there late into the night.

Then, a sudden flurry of activity among journalists, as the hospital spokesman, General Christian Estripeau, emerged to announce Mr Arafat had died during the night. Journalists and camera crews ran to their satellite vehicles to break the news.

As dawn lightened the sky, streams of mourners began arriving, men and women with their children wanting to witness the death of the man Palestinians regard as a hero.

Many brought bunches of flowers, others, a single rose to honour the man who embodied the Palestinian dream of a statehood.

Lucy Williamson :: Ramallah :: 1327GMT

Since the news of Mr Arafat's death broke, his picture has appeared on walls, shops and car windscreens.

Black flags flutter from vehicles and many people are wearing the black and white chequered kaffir that became Mr Arafat's trademark. Some here have paid their respects privately and in silence, standing around the town's main square.

Despite the days of rumours and the early reports of his death, many are shocked that the man who led them for nearly 40 years has gone.

Others join small demonstrations around Mr Arafat's compound, their chants mixing with the sound of bulldozers preparing his burial ground.

But the outpouring of anger that some predicted would follow Mr Arafat's death is for now largely absent and many talk of Mr Arafat more as a national symbol than a political player.

Inside Mr Arafat's compound, the new leaders of the Palestinian people are taking up their positions. As in the streets outside, there's a sense that things are moving on.

Orla Guerin :: Ramallah :: 1313GMT

Arafat refused to delegate authority and did not anoint a successor. But we have now seen Arafat be formally replaced in the three positions he held with people who are more moderate in the eyes of Israel and the US.

But these are men who do not have a power base, and they neither have the authority nor command the loyalty that Arafat had. So there is a transition, but the best way to move things forward is in the elections to come.

Bridget Kendall :: TV News Centre, London :: 1310GMT

Moving fast to avoid a vacuum, the speaker was sworn in as temporary president until new elections are called. Hopes have been raised among some for the beleaguered peace process, as the Palestinian leaders are seen as seasoned pragmatists.

Across the Arab world there have been tributes paid. Leaders are suggesting there could now be a new opportunity.

In Gaza the response was chaotic and emotional, and around the world Arafat's departure raises some troubling questions. Britain, like the rest of Europe, insisted Arafat was too important to be ignored, but Sharon and Bush refused to meet him.

So when Tony Blair arrives in Washington later, his most urgent question will be what the US intends to do now to push the peace process forward.

But Islamic Jihad have insisted their armed struggle won't end. The physical and political obstacles which keep these two sides divided have yet to be surmounted.

Matthew Price :: Ramallah :: 1305GMT

The man who devoted his life to the struggle died not as he wished among his people, but in a hospital in a foreign land. The French president arrived earlier while preparations were made to fly Yasser Arafat back to his people. And his people are in shock. Today they are united, but also alone in their sorrow.

Arafat inspired, led and dictated the struggle - they have known nobody else. This is a day they never wanted to contemplate. He has been the man struggling for the Palestinian nation and there is a sense here that people don't know what comes next.

It was business as usual meanwhile for his lifelong enemy Ariel Sharon. Arafat's compound, the place that was once his prison, will now become a shrine to the Palestinian cause.

Alan Johnston :: Gaza :: 1215GMT

I have just seen a truck on the road below announcing that there will be a demonstration tonight - just one of numerous mourning rituals going on here.

The day started with Koranic prayer readings from the major mosques at news of Yasser Arafat's death.

Strikingly, a few hours ago there were hundreds of tyres set ablaze, sending up a heavy cloud of smoke that hung over the city and reflected the mood of gloom and mourning on the streets below.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 1153GMT

The understanding is that a ceremony will be held at the King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz mosque in Cairo.

YASSER ARAFAT: KEY DATES
24 Aug 1929: Born in Cairo
1958: Founds Fatah
1969: Elected PLO chairman
1974: Addresses UN General Assembly
1982: Expelled from Lebanon by Israelis
1990: Supports Saddam Hussein during First Gulf War
1991: Marries Suha Tawil
1993: At the White House signs peace agreement with Israel
1994: Jointly awarded Nobel peace prize with Rabin and Peres
2001: Israel blockades him inside Ramallah headquarters

There will also be a horse drawn carriage to a military airbase after the ceremony, from where the body will be flown to Ramallah in the West Bank for burial.

The Egyptian authorities are likely to want as little public access as possible. Like many governments around the Arab world, they are very nervous about developments.

They're nervous that the death may provoke unrest amongst the Arab population who are unhappy about the situation in Israel and Palestine.

Allan Little :: Percy Hospital, Paris :: 1118GMT

The hospital authorities here have said almost nothing. They have observed a very strict code of medical confidentiality, respecting the privacy of the Arafat family.

So we know very little, either about his illness - the development of it over the last two weeks or the final cause of his death early on Thursday morning.

This information vacuum has caused a lot of speculation about whether there was any hope of his recovery over the last two weeks. And there is now more speculation about what exactly he died from.

President Chirac is expected to come to the hospital. He will make a private visit to extend his condolences to the Arafat family and, by extension, to the Palestinian people.

In a couple of hours' time we expect the body of Yasser Arafat to be taken to a military airbase near Paris where he will be flown to Cairo.

Richard Miron :: Jerusalem :: 1057GMT

Without mentioning his political nemesis by name, Ariel Sharon spoke of Yasser Arafat's death as bringing about the possibility of an historic turning point in the Middle East.

Israel, he said, would continue its efforts to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians without delay, but that progress would depend upon the cessation of terrorism.

For Mr Sharon, and most Israelis, the Palestinian leader was a symbol of violence, not statesmanship. He was responsible for countless deaths.

For Israeli left-wingers, Yasser Arafat was a highly controversial and contradictory figure, who flitted between violence and diplomacy to pursue his aims.

Head of the opposition Labour Party, Shimon Peres, expressed the hope of people here that the Palestinian leader's passing would mark a fresh start.

Roger Hearing :: Ramallah :: 1043GMT

The rally behind me is getting under way. A group of people are chanting outside the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority here in Ramallah.

Over the last few days I have heard a certain degree of criticism of Yasser Arafat. I have seen disillusion over corruption in the Palestinian Authority and disappointment that Yasser Arafat had done nothing to stop it.

So perhaps there is the feeling that this may mark a turning point not only in the peace process but also in the process of turning the Palestinian Authority into a more democratic and accountable state.

Martin Asser :: Ramallah :: 1030GMT

There's a bulldozer digging a large hole of about five metres by two metres under six trees in an open area in the Muqata compound.

Other moving equipment is clearing away the last traces of rubble from a past Israeli incursion. The expectation is that this is Arafat's grave being prepared.

He is going to be buried in sand so that his coffin may be dug up and taken to Jerusalem at a later date. As I speak about 400 Palestinians or so are coming by from the centre of Ramallah, to gather at the east gate of the Muqata.

They are very quiet and the mood is very subdued and there is no chanting. They have probably come here after noon prayers.

But now as they approach the wall of the compound chants hailing Yasser Arafat break out.

Lucy Williamson :: Ramallah :: 0957GMT

Hours after Mr Arafat's death, the various pieces of his role are being portioned off. First to be appointed is Mahmoud Abbas. He will now lead the PLO - the umbrella organisation of Palestinian political groups.

Mr Arafat's dominant political party Fatah will be led by Farouk Kaddoumi, a key member of the Palestinian movement who has remained in exile.

In the coming hours the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Rauhi Fattouh, is expected to take over the presidency of the Palestinian Authority for 60 days.

During that time elections for a new president will need to be held. Many in the Palestinian leadership know that free and fair elections hold the key to legitimacy for any future leaders.

The question is whether all sides can work together to achieve them.

Alan Johnston :: Gaza :: 0945GMT

This is a morning of deep grief in every way. Koranic readings echo through the city for hour after hour and it has been hard to see more than a few city blocks away because the sky was black from the burning of tyres.

People had been prepared but there was an element of shock that his time had finally come and people were too emotional sometimes to speak.

There's no prospect of Israel allowing large numbers of people to make the journey from Gaza to Ramallah for the burial as they would like to. Israel says some here spend a large amount of time trying to secrete bombers into Israel and it won't allow them in.

And there has been an incursion here this morning by the Israelis involving several tanks and bulldozers and helicopters in the air. That's a normal day in Gaza, but a reminder on this morning of all mornings that the confrontation continues.

Navdip Dhariwal :: Delhi :: 0935GMT

The government and people of India received news of President Yasser Arafat's death with "deep sadness and shock".

The prime minister, Manhmohan Singh, and the Indian President, Abdul Khalam, sent messages of condolence to the Palestinian leaders.

India has consistently supported the Palestinian struggle for independence. It was the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

Yasser Arafat briefly visited the country three years ago while on a tour of Asia, trying to bolster support against Israel. New Delhi has always supported him, but backed an international solution to the Middle East conflict.

Lyse Doucet :: Ramallah :: 0930GMT

Flags are flying at half mast across the territories, and here in the compound preparations are being made for Arafat's final resting place, in the compound where he was a virtual prisoner for the past two years.

Palestinians have been gathering here to pay their respects to the only leader they have ever known, the symbol of their aspiration for statehood. Over the past two weeks they have begun to come to terms with what his death would mean for the entire Middle East.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 0912GMT

We're expecting Yasser Arafat's body to be flown here to Cairo later on Thursday. It will probably arrive in the evening. It'll then lie in state overnight and there will be a funeral ceremony at 11 o'clock on Friday morning with a full military ceremony.

It will be attended by a variety of leaders and the guest list is still being drawn up. So far we've heard of four Arab leaders, including President Mubarak of Egypt, who will attend.

Bill Burns, the assistant Secretary of State, is expected to be the American representative in attendance and Jack Straw, the British representative.

Frances Harrison :: Tehran :: 0854GMT

State run television in Iran announced the news of Yasser Arafat's death by saying he had been poisoned and an unknown type of virus had been introduced into his blood.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi sent his condolences to the Palestinian people noting that Mr Arafat had spent many years particularly in his youth fighting what he called "the Zionist regime".

On Friday Iranians mark what's called Qods or Jerusalem Day with anti-Israel rallies. The Foreign Ministry said it should be a time for world Muslims to defend the rights of the Palestinian nation.

In Tehran newspapers today have been commenting on the future direction of the Palestinian struggle. The moderate Iran Daily said Arafat's absence would mean the Palestinian leadership would be less able to confront Hamas directly.

The Tehran times said that Mr Arafat's death will certainly lead to a bloody civil war between Palestinian groups which will only benefit what it also called the Zionist regime.

Kim Ghattas :: Beirut :: 0845GMT

The mood here in this Palestinian camp in Lebanon is similar to that in Ramallah. People here have been pouring out onto the streets of this crowded camp, burning tyres and shooting into the air.

There have been processions, with people chanting their support for Arafat and using his nom de guerre Abu Ammar.

There is a lot of sadness here, and although people have been preparing for this moment for the last two weeks, they are shocked nevertheless to hear that he has died.

Lyse Doucet :: Ramallah :: 0840GMT

Certainly the mourning started here as soon as the announcement came. Plumes of black smoke are curling through the sky. Palestinians are trying to turn the sky black by burning tyres.

They have known no other leader than Yasser Arafat - he was the symbol of the Palestinian movement.

Bulldozers and trucks are beginning to prepare the burial site for what people hope will be a peaceful burial. The idea of achieving a Palestinian state is still unfinished and that is the task of those who will succeed him.

Richard Miron :: Jerusalem :: 0815GMT

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that Israel shouldn't rush to embrace the new Palestinian leadership and offer concessions but should instead wait until it has proven its ability to impose law and order.

There is nervousness in the immediate aftermath of Yasser Arafat's death.

The West Bank and Gaza have been sealed off by the army and there are extra security measures in Israel.

But there is also a sense of hopefulness and, as Israel prepares to unilaterally disengage from Gaza, the new political realities now offer it an opportunity to carry out its plans as part of a revitalised peace process.

Daisy Sampson :: Downing Street, London :: 0804GMT

Tony Blair is due to pay a visit to George Bush later and Yasser Arafat's death will be in the forefront of both their minds.

We knew even before Mr Arafat's death that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle would come very high on the menu of things for them to discuss.

The prime minister is under pressure from his own backbenchers who are expecting him to "get some payback" from the president for British support over the last couple of years.

But we're not expecting a firm commitment yet from President Bush to join a conference proposed for early next year in London to forge ahead on the road map.

Because of the vacuum left by Yasser Arafat's death, we are expecting the prime minister to wait and see who will replace him before any firm commitments are made.

Lucy Williamson :: Ramallah :: 0734GMT

After the news, Ramallah's radio station broadcast nothing but Koranic verses. Ramallah is beginning a week of mourning and the sadness is palpable.

In the town's central square a small crowd stands in silence looking up at the square's metal tower. At the top two photographs of the only leader the Palestinians have ever known flap in the wind.

Despite the days of rumours and the early reports of his death many here are in shock.

Elsewhere in Ramallah schools have closed as the week of official mourning begins and many in the town are wearing the black and white chequered Kafir that became Mr Arafat's trade mark.

Alan Johnston :: Gaza :: 0617 GMT

Readings from the Koran in homage to Yasser Arafat are coming from the loudspeakers of mosques the length of Gaza.

At major junctions in Gaza City, tyres have been set alight. A great pall of black smoke is shrouding the minarets and apartment blocks.

Shops, schools and businesses will stay shut. The sense of mourning is profound. One man I talked to broke down as he tried to explain his feelings, and a woman on her way to work was too choked with emotion to say anything.

People have talked of their sadness that Mr Arafat didn't achieve his dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state before he died.

They have spoken, too, of the importance of Palestinians staying united as they go into the future without the figure who has guided them through decades of turmoil.

Richard Miron :: Jerusalem :: 0552 GMT

Summing up the feelings of many here, Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said: "I hated him for the deaths of Israelis, I hated him for not allowing the peace process to move forward."

For Palestinians, Yasser Arafat represented their aspirations for nationhood, but for Israelis he was for most a symbol of terror.

Katya Adler :: Paris :: 0545 GMT

In a written statement, the French President Jacques Chirac said he learned of Yasser Arafat's death with emotion.

Mr Arafat, he said, had been the incarnation of the Palestinians' combat for the recognition of their national rights.

A small group of supporters kept a constant vigil outside the hospital gates surrounded by candles, flags and pictures of Mr Arafat.

Caroline Wyatt :: Paris :: 0514 GMT

The announcement was made by the military hospital spokesman, General Christian Estripeau, who said that Yasser Arafat died at 0230 GMT after several days in a coma.

He didn't give a specific cause of death, citing France's strict medical secrecy laws.

Jon Leyne :: Cairo :: 0452 GMT

A close aide to Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeyna, arrived in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss funeral arrangements.

The official confirmed that the funeral will be held in Cairo followed by burial in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Mr Arafat lived and was a virtual prisoner for the last three years.

The Palestinian leader's body may be brought here later today. There will be a lying in state, then the plan is to hold a military and religious ceremony, probably at the international airport, possibly as early as Friday.

James Reynolds :: Ramallah :: 0425 GMT

Here in Ramallah the news has been widely expected because the Palestinian leadership has been preparing the Palestinian people for the death of their leader. Dawn has just broken but things are still quiet. No one has gone on to the streets so far.



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