Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Smoke fills the air as Gaza mourns

LAMENTPeople with blank faces filled the streets and youths fired off guns, some crying, perhaps as much for the 3,500 Palestinians that have died in the uprising as for Arafat

AFP , GAZA CITY

Palestinian security personnel cry near Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's former office in Gaza City early yesterday after hearing the news of his death.

PHOTO: AFP

The skies filled with smoke, the streets echoed with the plain chant from mosques and intermittent bursts of gunfire rang out as the Gaza Strip yesterday marked the death of Yasser Arafat.

Hundreds of people poured into the streets across the towns and refugee camps crammed into the 360km2 Palestinian territory, as residents dressed in black hung around, fearful for an uncertain future.

In southern Khan Yunis, where Arafat's sister and father are buried, roads were shut as tyres blazed into the sky and youths fired off Kalashnikovs into the air. The picture was the same in the volatile Rafah, which straddles the Egyptian border.

But several hours after Arafat's death was announced, only dozens gathered in the streets of Gaza City, many of their faces blank, others crying, perhaps as much for the four-year uprising that has killed more than 3,500 Palestinians as for Arafat.

Children stooped to kiss a giant poster spread out in the road of the man many considered a father as cars, covered in black cloth and Arafat portraits, drove past. The occasional thud of hand grenades sounded in the distance.

Lacing all was the acrid smell of burning rubber, smog obliterating the sunshine.

Shops remained shut and children traipsed back from closed schools in the eerie quiet, some unaware that Arafat had died before they left home.

"I've been prepared for this for a few days and I'm still shocked, but it's normal. Everyone dies and we ask God to ease our plight in this situation to make it better," said Ibrahim Hassan Yussif, 56, a refugee, his face resigned.

At Arafat's Muntada headquarters in Gaza City, Koranic verses were read out over loudspeakers as his guards shuffled around, their faces blank.

Earlier, members of the leader's elite Force 17 security service cried as the Palestinian flag was lowered to half-mast.

Others stayed at home, glued to televisions to watch the wall-to-wall coverage on pan-Arab satellite channels as the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation showed stills of Arafat's portrait on a black background.

In the Jabaliya refugee camp, just to the northeast of the city, a mourning tent was hastily erected and decorated with posters of the veteran leader -- a place where people could meet and greet, share their sadness and listen to the Koran.

Further south, in the Nuseirat camp, refugees staged a symbolic funeral, carrying a faux coffin through the scuffed streets, while hundreds of demonstrators poured outside in the Bureij and Ma-ghazi camps, holding aloft Arafat portraits.

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