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Sadness Among Arabs, Guarded Optimism Among Israelis Following News of Arafat's Death


It was 4:30 a.m. in Israel when news came of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death. The evening chill still clung to the old stones of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City.

At first glance it seemed like the start of a normal day. Children hustled off to school their voices echoing down the narrow streets and alleys. But there was a sadness too among the shopkeepers and residents.

"He is our leader and we are very sad," said one man. "I am very sad for this," said another. "He's a Palestinian. He cares for his people. He cares for everybody. He's a man of peace. He's a Nobel Prize winner. I'm very, very sad."

Yasser Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli leaders for signing the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. But, more recently Israel and the United States refused to deal with him, accusing him of supporting terrorism and being an obstacle to peace.

Now, even in his sadness, one man, who like the others did not want to give his name, saw the passing of Yasser Arafat as somehow an opportunity. "For me maybe there will be a new era now," he said. "I mean peace will be, maybe the chance for peace will be easier now."

Not far from the Old City is Ben Yehuda street, the center of Israeli Jerusalem. There reaction different.

Twenty-year-old Vatslav was quite matter of fact. "I think it was his fate to live to 75 years," he said.

One young woman needed no words to answer when I asked her reaction to how she felt at the news that Yasser Arafat was dead. " You don't want to know," she giggled. "You really don't want to know."

Nearby, shopkeeper Yardeena Stern had a more pragmatic response. "We hope it will start a new era because he stopped a lot of trying from our side to make peace," she said. "That's what I think. Maybe. Maybe, there will be quiet here."

In many respects, the responses of the Arabs and Israelis seem as though they could not be more different. But in both parts of this city, it is interesting to note that there were some, at least, expressing the feeling that perhaps Yasser Arafat's passing could lead to a new chance for peace.