Amid reconciliation push, Palestinians mark 13 years since Arafat’s death

Events in Gaza and Ramallah held to honor late PLO leader, who remains revered by Palestinians but reviled by many Israelis

Palestinians hold pictures of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on November 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinians hold pictures of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on November 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Thursday held rallies to mark the 13th anniversary of the death of revered former leader Yasser Arafat.

This year’s events came as rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas seek to carry out a landmark reconciliation deal signed last month that aims to end their 10-year rift.

Arafat, who died on November 11, 2004 at a hospital near Paris from unknown causes at the age of 75, remains a towering figure among Palestinians.

A Palestinian woman walks past a portrait of Yasser Arafat at the start of celebrations marking the 13th anniversary of his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Former senior Fatah party official Mohammed Dahlan, who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, organized a rally in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

A few thousand Dahlan supporters raised pictures of Arafat and Palestinian flags, while on the stage there were large portraits of Arafat and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the Hamas terror group who was killed by Israel in 2004.

Dahlan was not in attendance but a speech was delivered on his behalf.

He was once one of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s top officials in Gaza but fell out with him and was later kicked out of his Fatah party.

Since then he has become closer to rivals Hamas, the terror group that has run Gaza since 2007.

In a separate event in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday, dozens of Palestinians gathered to commemorate Arafat’s death.

“We really wanted to come this year because this is the year for reconciliation between here and Gaza,” said rally participant Sanaa Al-Rifai.

“We hope this reconciliation will be a good start and the soul of the martyr (Arafat) will be more at peace when he sees the Palestinian people more united.”

Arafat rose to become the leader of the Palestinian movement after the creation of Israel and directed decades of terror attacks against the Jewish state.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. On the far right, current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (GPO)

Decades later he purportedly disavowed violence and famously shook hands with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, although the peace the Oslo accords were supposed to bring never materialized.

The Palestinians have long accused Israel of poisoning him, charges the Israeli government firmly denies.

His body was exhumed in 2012 for tests but a subsequent French investigation found no proof of poisoning.

Although he remains a venerated figure among Palestinians, Arafat is seen by many in Israel as an unreformed terrorist who doomed the 2000 Camp David peace talks, orchestrated the suicide bombing onslaught of the Second Intifada that followed, and disseminated a still-prevailing narrative among Palestinians that denies Jews’ history and legitimacy in the Holy Land.

Last month, Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks Israel’s destruction, signed an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement with Fatah that is supposed to see the Palestinian Authority reclaim control of the Gaza Strip by December 1.

Hamas handed over the borders to Fatah on November 1 in a first key test of the agreement but there have been signs of tensions in recent days over security control of the Gaza Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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