Hamas leader attends Arafat funeral

The leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, who publicly accused Israel of killing Yasser Arafat, attended the Palestinian leader’s funeral on Friday in Cairo, in a rare public appearance for a man believed to be a walking target of the Israeli military.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesperson, said Khaled Mashaal also would take time to talk to the new Palestinian leadership about talks among various Palestinian factions on how Gaza will be run after a planned Israeli withdrawal.

Mashaal has stayed largely out of sight in recent months since renewed Israeli threats that leaders of Palestinian militant groups behind deadly attacks on Israelis should not consider themselves safe.

“It is only natural that we participate in Abu Amar’s funeral, regardless of our differences in political positions,” said Hamdan, referring to Arafat by his nom de guerre.

“After all, he was a Palestinian leader, and a symbol of the Palestinian struggle,” Hamdan, in Cairo with three other senior Hamas officials, said from Beirut.

Arafat was being honoured on Friday with a hastily arranged and strictly controlled military funeral in Egypt. International dignitaries, including kings, presidents and foreign ministers, participated in the ceremonies, but it wasn’t immediately clear if any other leaders of radical Palestinian factions attended.

On Thursday, Mashaal had accused Israel of poisoning Arafat but offered no evidence. Israel has rejected the accusation.

Mashaal said Arafat’s death was “a message to the Palestinians and Arabs that this will be the fate of anyone who rejects an Israeli settlement with Israeli conditions”.

Neither doctors nor Palestinian leaders would say what caused Arafat’s death after days in a coma at a Paris hospital.

Hamas had opposed Arafat’s decision to negotiate peace with Israel and had rivalled him for power.

The group, which is on a United States list of terrorist organisations, is responsible for killing scores of Israelis with suicide bombings and refusing to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist. — Sapa-AP

More Arafat stories:

  • Arafat’s final journey
  • Race on to find strong, credible leader
  • Arafat to be buried on holy city’s soil
  • Palestinians divide spoils of power
  • Israel steps up security
  • Leaders hope for Middle East peace
  • Sharon loses his closest enemy
  • Arafat’s orphans had blissful childhood
  • Mbeki pays tribute to Arafat
  • Revered by some, reviled by others
  • Yasser Arafat: 1929-2004
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