RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinians gathered near Yasser Arafat”s grave in his old West Bank compound on Friday for a subdued commemoration of the first anniversary of their iconic leader”s death.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his successor, led a ceremony attended by top officials from major factions and a handful of foreign diplomats in honour of Arafat, who died aged 75 having failed to realise his dream of a Palestinian state.
The focus of the official commemoration was Arafat”s old headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah where he spent his final years isolated and encircled by the Israeli army.
Abbas laid the foundation stone for a new mausoleum complex while Koranic verses were broadcast on loudspeakers.
Many shops in Ramallah were closed, with portraits of Arafat adorning their shutters. A rally planned for the city centre later on Friday was expected to draw Palestinians from across the occupied West Bank.
Arafat, a former guerrilla leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize and the deep admiration of his people only to sink into renewed conflict with Israel, left a complicated legacy.
His death, after years of being shunned by the United States and Israel who considered him an obstacle to peace, stirred hope for a revival of peacemaking for the first time in years.
Abbas, elected in January on a platform of non-violence, quickly forged a ceasefire agreement that smoothed the way for Israel”s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September after 38 years of occupation.
But flare-ups of violence have dampened immediate prospects for any real breakthrough towards peace.
Abbas, 70, avoided the collapse into anarchy in the Palestinian territories that many had feared.
But he continues to struggle with the fallout from Arafat”s long, autocratic rule and his corruption-ridden administration.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out renewed talks with the Palestinians until Abbas reins in and disarms militants.
Abbas is reluctant to challenge the armed groups, fearing civil war, and says Israel”s continued settlement expansion in the West Bank is a major obstacle to peace.