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Ramallah Prepares for Arafat's Final Trip Home


Yasser Arafat will be laid to rest Friday in the place where he spent the last several years of his life -- his walled compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

It's not much to look at -- a stone wall that's crumbling in some places, buildings that have been turned to piles of cement and rubble. The few structures still standing are pockmarked by bullet holes -- signs of the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis that at times raged here during the past three years.

Then, there's the sand bagged entry way to the main remaining building -- this is where Yasser Arafat used to sometimes usher out visiting dignitaries before again disappearing back inside.

This is the Muqata compound, which became Yasser Arafat's headquarters in 1996 and where he spent the last three years of his life -- most of that kept under virtual house arrest by the Israelis.

Israeli forces surrounded and shelled the compound in early 2002 in response to Palestinians' suicide bombings in Israeli cities. Israel also threatened to evict the Palestinian leader because of what it said was his continued support of the violence. But Yasser Arafat stayed and he and his aides and bodyguards retreated to a small suite of rooms in the remaining building of the compound.

Israel said Mr. Arafat was free to leave any time, but would not guarantee that he'd be allowed to return and so he rarely came out of his musty, windowless office block -- until October 29 when a Jordanian military helicopter landed here, took Mr. Arafat to Jordan where a French plane ferried him to the military hospital outside of Paris, where he died early Thursday.

Of course, the Muqata has a history of its own. It was originally built by the British and served as provincial headquarters during the British mandate in Palestine. It was later used by Jordan and then by Israel as a prison before it was turned over to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Peace Accords.

The Muqata was certainly not Yasser Arafat's first choice as a burial site. He wanted to be buried in Jerusalem's Old City - in the al Aqsa Mosque at the Haram a-Sharif. But the Israeli government has vowed that won't happen.

Palestinian journalist Nabhan Kreishi says the burial site at the Muqata is seen as temporary. "I think the Palestinians are waiting for some sort of peace settlement [to] take place and have sovereignty on East Jerusalem; then they will transfer the body from [the] Muqata in Ramallah to [the] al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem," he said.

Temporary or not - some would see this a fitting burial site for the Palestinian leader, who for forty years championed his people's cause and desire for statehood. For many Palestinians the Muqata has come to symbolize their resistance against Israeli occupation.