Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat reviews an honour guard on his arrival in the Gaza Strip on May 5, 2001. (Reuters)
Updated 12 November 2019

Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

  • When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah
  • While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death

AMMAN: For Rauhi Fatouh, the memories of Yaser Arafat’s last days are as vivid as they were yesterday. 

Fatouh, a Gazan leader who belongs to Arafat’s Fatah movement, was the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Oct. 12, 2004 when president Arafat suddenly became sick while holed up at the Muqata headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Fatouh recalls going with the ailing Arafat to a French military hospital outside Paris along with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Ahmad Kurei (Abu Alaa) and a special visitor came by. “We were visited by French President Jacque Chirac who talked about the issue of transition and asked me to follow the Palestinian basic law so that there would be a smooth transition,” Fatouh told Arab News.

Article 37 of the Palestinian law stipulates that if the president of the Palestinian Authority is unable to carry on his duties, the speaker of the Legislative Council will take over for a 60-day transitional period, after which new elections are supposed to take place. 

“We were hoping that this would not happen but everyone including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Abdallah Saleh kept on calling us wanting to be sure that the transition will take place without any obstacles and if it is possible to hold the funeral outside of Palestine so that they can attend.”

When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah. Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, and Foreign Minister Suleiman Abu Ghaith came to Ramallah to attend the funeral.

Fatouh recalls the following sequence of events: “Abbas was elected as chairman of the executive committee and I was sworn in as acting president, as per the Palestinian Basic Law in front of the Legislative Council and the senior court judges. Everything concerning the transition took place in an orderly fashion,” he said noting that he resisted various attempts by people close to him to skip the idea of having presidential elections and stay in power.

One of the first orders of business for the acting president was to respond to the hundreds of letters, requests and laws that were unanswered. “I had to deal with thousands of documents, I vowed not to refuse any request for help from Palestinians needy medical or educational help, but sometimes we had to reduce the amount.”

On his third day in office, Fatouh signed a decree allowing for presidential elections to take place exactly 60 days later. “While some wanted to have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, I decided to only have presidential elections to fill Arafat’s seat and that took place on Jan. 9, 2005.” Mahmoud Abbas won the presidential elections defeating independent medical doctor Mustafa Barghouti with 72 percent of the vote.

Najeeb Qadoumi, a member of the Palestine National and Central Councils, told Arab News that the absence of Arafat has left a vacuum in Palestinian political life. “We are sad on this occasion because we feel lonely. Arafat was able to move the Palestinian cause from a humanitarian and refugee cause to one of a revolution, a flag, national identity and statehood. Today, whenever you meet anyone and say you are Palestinian, they will mention Arafat’s name.”

While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death. Hamdi Farraj, a left-wing writer from Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp, told Arab News that the mystery must be solved. Palestinian officials, including Arafat’s nephew Nasser Kidwa, insist that Arafat was poisoned, possibly with orders from former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with help from someone close to the late president. “We are further saddened by the fact that the killer of Arafat is still free, eating our food and breathing our air,” Farraj said.

Palestinians are expecting to have legislative elections early in 2020 followed within three months by presidential elections. Abbas has said previously that he has no plans to run again, but Fatah strongman Hussein Sheikh has said publicly that Abbas remains the party’s only candidate. Fatah Secretary Jibril Rajoub, seen by many as the strongest Fatah candidate, has said on Palestine TV that Abbas should be the “wise leader” of the Palestinian people and should give room to others to take his place.

Some analyst also expect Fatah deputy Mahmoud Alloul to be a candidate along with current Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Renegade Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, living in exile in the UAE, has a significant following and is expected to run for office if elections take place. Other possible candidates include Hamas’s leader Ismael Haniyeh and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as an independent.


Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

Updated 7 min 58 sec ago

Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

  • Latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786
  • Iran made wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces

TEHRAN: Iran confirmed Tuesday over 2,700 new COVID-19 infections, its highest single-day count in more than a month, as the health ministry called for those without masks to be fined.
Deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic republic since hitting a months-long low in May.
This has prompted Iran to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces and reimpose restrictions lifted gradually since April to reopen the economy.
Despite the rule, people without masks can still be seen inside the capitals’ shops and banks, and state television often criticizes them for doing so.
“In the past 24 hours, new confirmed cases were reported to be 2,751,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in televised remarks.
The number is the highest since June 5, when the ministry reported 2,886 infections in one day.
The latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786, Lari added.
Another 212 people died from the virus during the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 17,617.
Iran’s deputy health minister called for those who fail to obey the mask rules to be fined, as the only penalty currently in place is the refusal of service in public places.
“Deterrent methods must naturally be used, one of which is fining those not wearing masks,” ISNA news agency quoted Iraj Harirchi as saying.
But those “financially unable to buy masks must be exempted,” he added, without elaborating how that could be determined.
Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation.
It has seen a drop in non-oil exports compounded by a tumbling currency and runaway inflation, piling new pressure on those already dependent on government cash handouts.
Masks in Iran cost from about 15 US cents for simple surgical ones to 68 cents for multilayered ones with respirators, while the minimum wage is currently $2.60 per day.