Palestinians mark 4th anniversary of late Arafat amid Fatah-Hamas disputes

RAMALLAH, Nov. 11 – More than 8,000 Palestinians, many were Fatah supporters, gathered in the West Bank on Tuesday to mark the fourth anniversary of late leader Yasser Arafat, while their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the rival Hamas movement, were suppressed. Arafat died in 2004 in a French hospital where he was being treated for an unknown sort of poison.

“Rise up Yasser,wake up from your momentary sleep, come with me, you; the phoenix, you don’t hear me? Or you are mad from me?” appealed Ahmed al-Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), at the start of the ceremony in Ramallah.

The participants, most of whom donned the Kufiya, the scarf that Arafat used to place on his head, gathered at the Palestinian presidency headquarter, better known as AlMuqata, where Arafat’s temporary burial place is located.

The attendance included President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, and representatives of most of the Palestinian factions, in addition to some Arab members of the Israeli Knesset.

But leaders from Fatah’s rival, the Islamic Hamas movement, didn’t attend.

“If you know how much we miss you and how much we need you in the shadow of the split, crisis, despair and the fighting,” al-Tibi said, referring to Hamas-Fatah fighting in June 2007 which ended with Hamas’ took-over of the Gaza Strip after ousting Fatah.

President Abbas also spoke at the occasion, vowing that the Palestinian leadership “will stick to the national, independent decision that Arafat maintained.”

“Arafat is still present here. As usual, he doesn’t surrender to the impossible.”

He called on Hamas “to end the state of coup in Gaza by resorting to dialogue,” accusing the Islamic movement of thwarting an Egyptian attempt to hold a national Palestinian dialogue.

Hamas boycotted the Egyptian-hosted dialogue which was due to start Sunday, pushing Egypt to postpone it.

Abbas promised the Gazans that “the coup will go away very soon,” urging the residents there to be steadfast.

Hamas forces, in civilian cloths in military uniforms, on Tuesday deployed across the Gaza Strip, quickly crushing any attempt of gathering by supporters of rival Fatah movement who try to commutate the fourth anniversary of late leader Yasser Arafat.

Abed, a 16-year-old student who did not want his family name to be mentioned, said that members of Hamas forces beat him with a stick and took off the Kufiya, a veined black and white scarf that Palestinians wore after Arafat.

“They (Hamas) stopped every student who threw the Kufiya on his shoulders and beat them, describing us and Abu Amar (Arafat) as infidel secular,” Abed added.

Meanwhile, the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reported that Hamas forces have stormed tens of schools in the Gaza Strip and attacked the pupils for trying to mark the fourth anniversary of Arafat.

At least 20 students were injured “due to heavy beating in a Abbass an secondary school in southern Gaza Strip,” said Wafa.

Hamas interior ministry or the spokesman of its police forces were not available for comment.

On Monday, the national work committee, which represents the factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, called on the residents to mark Arafat’s memory by wearing the Kufiya, raising Fatah flags out from their windows and light candles on their rooftops in the night.

The announcement was made after Hamas decided to ban any public ceremony to commemorate Arafat’s death. Last year, 12 Palestinian civilians were killed when Hamas crushed a mass rally marking the event in Gaza city.

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