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Gunfire Greets Arafat's Coffin Upon Arrival in Ramallah


Volleys of gunfire greeted a military helicopter carrying Yasser Arafat's coffin as it landed Friday at the late Palestinian leader's West Bank compound, which has been overrun by tens of thousands of mourners.

Most of the gunfire came from Palestinian security forces, firing in the air in an attempt to stop the throngs from rushing the helicopter.

The crowd packed so tightly around the Jordanian aircraft that it took more than 20 minutes for an honor guard to get room to unload the coffin.

The emotional crowd cheered and shouted militant Palestinian slogans as the flag-draped wooden coffin emerged from the helicopter. The Palestinian leader's remains were carried overhead through a sea of mourners to a conference hall, with security guards standing atop the casket.

Some commentators said there had been fears that some of the mourners might make an attempt to seize Mr. Arafat's coffin and try to take it to Jerusalem, where he had wanted to be buried.

The huge crowd of mourners broke through gates and swarmed over walls, easily overwhelming what had seemed to be a large Palestinian security force, and gained entry to Mr. Arafat's walled headquarters complex long before the aircraft arrived in the West Bank city.

Israeli television says two Palestinians were seriously injured when a car bomb exploded several kilometers from the Ramallah headquarters shortly before the burial service was due to begin.

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