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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 09:22 GMT
Tributes to Arafat led by Blair
Yasser Arafat and Tony Blair
Tony Blair called Mr Arafat a 'symbol of the Palestinian movement'
Prime Minister Tony Blair has led UK tributes to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in the early hours of Thursday in a French hospital.

Giving his condolences to Mr Arafat's family, the prime minister renewed his commitment to peace in the Middle East.

"President Arafat came to symbolise the Palestinian national movement," he said in a statement.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said: "There will be a deep sense of loss among the Palestinian people."

Mr Arafat, 75, had been in a coma since 3 November and on Tuesday suffered a brain haemorrhage. In his final hours, he had brain damage and kidney and liver failure.

It has not been made clear what illness the Palestinian leader was suffering from, although doctors ruled out cancer and poisoning.

'International awareness'

Jack Straw said it would be "hard to imagine the Middle East without" Mr Arafat.

He said: "I want to express my deep sympathy and condolences to the Palestinian people on the death of Yasser Arafat."

He said the Palestinian president had "created an international awareness" of the plight of his people and was a "towering figure" in the Arab world.

And he made clear the British Government would work with Mr Arafat's successor.

The foreign secretary said he would be attending Mr Arafat's funeral on behalf of the British Government.

Yasser Arafat

Mr Blair said: "President Arafat... won the Nobel peace prize in 1994 jointly with Yitzhak Rabin in recognition of their efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

"He led his people to an historic acceptance of the need for a two-state solution.

"That goal of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is one that we must continue to work tirelessly to achieve. Peace in the Middle East must be the international community's highest priority.

"We will do whatever we can, working with the US and the EU to help the parties reach a fair and durable settlement."

Mr Howard said that Mr Arafat had "sought to stand up for [Palestinians'] interests".

"But will be for history to judge whether the failure to achieve a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel... was the failure of circumstance or of will," Mr Howard added.

'Opportunity'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Arafat had been "a remarkable figure on the international stage for decades and helped achieve great strides for the Palestinian cause".

But he added: "History will judge it as tragic that he was unable or unwilling to go the extra mile at a crucial time.

HAVE YOUR SAY
He worked hard to achieve the idea that no-one today will reject: that Palestinians deserve a state
Mohammed, Williamsburg, USA

"It is to be hoped that a new generation of leaders can now seriously advance the Middle East peace process."

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the "opportunity has got to be taken" by the international community "to press ahead to try and reach some settlement".

He added: "For the last two years both Israel and the US have refused to deal with Arafat.

"To a large extent he has suffered political impotence, and that has inevitably had consequences for the extent to which the Palestinian cause has been seen to be of importance."




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