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Tens of Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza Commemorate 13th Anniversary of Arafat Death

Tens of Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza Commemorate 13th Anniversary of Arafat Death

Saturday, 11 November, 2017 - 13:30
A Palestinian women carries a poster of late leader Yasser Arafat during a Gaza rally to commemorate the anniversary of his death on November 9, 2017. (AFP)

Tens of thousands of Palestinians commemorated in Gaza on Saturday the 13th anniversary of the death of leader Yasser Arafat.

This was the first memorial of its kind held in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip since 2007.

The movement had seized Gaza in bloody clashes with Fatah in 2007. The schism created by the clashes was resolved last month when representatives from both rival Palestinian factions met in Cairo for a reconciliation agreement.

Saturday’s anniversary event was billed as a show of national unity after the reconciliation agreement with Fatah, which was founded by Arafat.

The deal, which is supposed to see Hamas cede civil control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority led by current Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas by December 1, ended years of bitter division between the rival factions.

Tens of thousands of people from across the Gaza Strip poured into Saraya Square in Gaza City from early morning, hours before the keynote speeches were due to be delivered.

The rally drew in people from all over the coastal enclave, waving flags, raising posters of Abbas, Arafat and donning his landmark kaffiyeh.

"Today is a day for loyalty, unity and reconciliation. We say to the president and the government: Your sons in Fatah are waiting for your support of Gaza," said 20-year-old Shukri Antar.

Rania Barbekh, 50, who was carrying a Fatah flag and a picture of Abbas, said she and her son had arrived at the square at 7 am from their home in Khan Younes in the south of the Gaza Strip.

"We are all with Abou Ammar," she said, referring to Arafat by his Arabic nickname. "From this festival, we want Fatah and Hamas to unite against the enemy."

Fatah has held other events in Gaza since 2007, including a major celebration in 2013, but Hamas has often suppressed its activities.

On Thursday, several thousand people attended an Arafat anniversary event in Gaza organized by Fatah.

On Friday, hundreds of people took part in a "national unity marathon" organized by the Palestine Athletic Federation to support reconciliation between the rival factions.

Tawfiq Abou Naim, head of Hamas's internal security forces in Gaza, said he had instructed them to protect and support Saturday's commemoration, which he described as a "festival of unity".

Arafat died in 2004 at a hospital in France after two years of Israeli siege on his West Bank headquarters. Palestinians accuse Israel of poisoning him, but offer no proof, adding to the mystery of the death.

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