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Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon Mourn Arafat's Passing

Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in 12 camps across Lebanon, are expressing grief over Yasser Arafat's death.

Tears and muffled sobs overcame many Palestinians, as loudspeakers broadcast word in Beirut's Borj al Barajneh refugee camp that Yasser Arafat had died. The news broke shortly after morning prayers, and shops immediately closed to mourn the late Palestinian leader. Old women clutching tattered photos of Arafat waved them gently, with both reverence and affection.

In Sidon's Ain al Helweh refugee camp, young Palestinian men in military fatigues fired bursts from their Kalashnikov rifles to express grief.

Khaled Aref, a leader of Arafat's Fatah faction paid tribute to the late leader, saying he was both a personal friend and a friend to the entire Palestinian people.

He said, he wasn't just a president, he was both a leader and a friend of the entire Palestinian people. He would follow his people's daily tribulations every day, even when he was ill.

There are about 350,000 Palestinian refugees in 12 camps in Lebanon.

Mr. Aref also attacked Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accusing him of responsibility for Mr. Arafat's death.

"The entire Palestinian people," he said, "are out on the streets to demonstrate and to protest against the crime Sharon committed against him, from the moment he surrounded Arafat's headquarters, to the moment he assassinated him."

Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital, after being comatose for a week.

Mr. Arafat's body is to be flown to Cairo for an official funeral ceremony on Friday. He is to be buried at his Ramallah compound in the West Bank, where Israel had kept him under virtual house arrest for most of the last three years of his life.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Mr. Arafat's death could bring about an "historic turning point for the Middle East," and that Israel will continue efforts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

In Beirut, Lebanon's new prime minister, Rachid al Karameh, expressed his sympathies to the Palestinian people, declaring a three-day official mourning period.

Despite Lebanon's strained relations with Mr. Arafat, the Foreign Ministry indicated it intends to send a representative to his funeral.