The body of Yasser Arafat is being flown to Cairo following a brief ceremony in Paris, where the 75-year-old Palestinian leader died at a military hospital early Thursday morning. French leaders paid tribute the late Palestinian leader, whose wife Suha accompanied the coffin as it was put on a plane bound for the Egyptian capital for a memorial service to be held Friday.
The tributes poured in all day, as French intellectuals, Muslim leaders and politicians of all stripes saluted Mr. Arafat's memory and speculated about the future of peace in the Middle East.
Early Thursday French President Jacques Chirac visited the Percy Military Hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart, where Mr. Arafat died at 3:30 in the morning, local time.
Mr. Chirac told reporters that France would continue to work for peace and security in the Middle East.
In an interview on France-Info radio, former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing described cementing ties with Mr. Arafat 30 years ago, when he sent his foreign minister to meet the Palestinian leader.
Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said he realized at the time that Mr. Arafat best represented the dreams of the Palestinians. And he expressed sadness for the death of the Palestinian leader, who lingered in a coma for eight days before passing away.
France forged among the closest and most long-standing ties with Mr. Arafat of any European country. The relations were unofficial as well, such as those held by prominent French Jewish writer and peace activist Marek Halter. Mr. Halter first met Mr. Arafat 35 years ago, and introduced the Palestinian leader to his future wife, Suha. In an interview with VOA, Mr. Halter said he last saw an ailing Mr. Arafat in early September, at his West Bank office in Ramallah.
"Im sad, because of all 35 years of intellectual fighting and relationship created a kind of real friendship," he said. "For the other side, Arafat belonged to the generation of the desert. The Moses generation."
That generation, Mr. Halter believes, was not able to make peace with the Israelis. But he thinks a new generation of Palestinian leaders can do so.
Soheib Bencheikh, Grand Mufti of Marseille, also expressed sadness about Mr. Arafat's death.
In a telephone interview with VOA, Mr. Bensheikh said Mr. Arafat evolved into a person who talked about peace. We must all bend before God, he said, and beg for his mercy. But with Mr. Arafat's death, he added, the world must now start thinking about creating a peaceful future in the Middle East.