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No way to die
Suzanne Goldenberg - TThe Guardian - Fri 17th, December 2004
Yasser Arafat's death last month in a French hospital was shrouded in mystery, accusation and acrimony. While a nation mourned, those nearest to him found themselves struggling for access, battling to find out the truth - and even, after he had died, fighting over his few possessions. Suzanne Goldenberg talks to those closest to the Palestinian leader to piece together the real story of his death

There were perhaps a dozen men by the grave, and they did their work in silence and in secrecy, hidden from possible onlookers by four strategically parked fire tenders. They worked swiftly, breaking up the large flat stones that had been placed there only hours before, and lifting out a heavy, locked coffin: Yasser Arafat's coffin.

In Muslim tradition, the dead are buried in a simple white shroud, returning to earth the way they were born. In the wake of the afternoon funeral it had gnawed at the chief religious authority in Palestine, Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, that the Palestinian president had not been laid to rest in accordance with religious rites.

The burial on November 12 beside the ruined compound in Ramallah that had been Arafat's home and his prison was a tumultuous affair, a people's salute to a fallen warrior, with the ululations of women and the crackling of rifles fired into the air. The outpouring of grief as the body was carried from helicopter to grave was so forceful that officials, fearing they could not contain the crowds, hurriedly placed the Palestinian leader in the concrete-lined grave without removing him from his coffin.

For Tamimi, who had been called to Arafat's deathbed in Paris to oversee arrangements for his burial back in the West Bank compound, the lapse was unconscionable. So in darkness, at about 2am on November 13, Arafat was reburied. "We returned to the grave to bury him according to our religion," the cleric told the Guardian. "We broke the cement and the stones, and we took the coffin out. I saw him, touched him and prayed over him, and I was able to bury him properly."

The guards returned the body to its place, a cement container that was built to line and preserve the gravesite in the hope that one day Arafat would be borne to Jerusalem following the creation of a Palestinian state.

Throughout his years as guerrilla leader, his brief interlude as peacemaker and statesman, and his slow twilight amid the ruins of his headquarters compound, Yasser Arafat was a man whose life and intentions were threaded with ambiguities, secrets and confusions.

And so it proved with the manner of his decline, his death, and his burial. Why was it that a parade of doctors - from Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and France - could produce no definitive diagnosis? Was the Palestinian leader really (aspopular rumour quickly had it) the victim of foul play, poisoning even - or did he, at the relatively ripe age of 75, simply succumb to a devastating illness? Why the sudden helicopter departure from Ramallah to a hospital in Paris? And then there were the bizarre deathbed squabbles between his wife, Suha Arafat, and Palestinian officials: did the officials, as Suha charged, try to hasten Arafat's death? Or were her allegations part of a bid to obtain Palestinian funds? Even now, a month after he was pronounced dead in a military hospital on the southern outskirts of Paris on November 11, the cause of Arafat's death remains unknown.

Those who hope to take their place in the emerging power structures are eager to put the Arafat era behind them. That may not prove so simple. While there is an eagerness among the powerful in Ramallah to lay Arafat to rest, there is a competing need on a popular level to explain how a man who lived on such an epic scale, surviving multiple assassination plots, a desert plane crash, the hostility of Arab regimes and the enmity of Israel's rulers, could die such a diminished, disorderly death.

"People wanted a heroic death," says a man who had been a member of Arafat's inner circle for 20 years. "Everyone expected that Israel would try to kill him, by F-16s, by a rocket, in a direct manner, but no one expected that he would die in this way."

In the muqata

On the ground floor of the headquarters of the Palestinian administration in the West Bank, the British mandate era compound known as the muqata, there is a small, windowless room with a single camp bed. This was Arafat's room, purposely spartan quarters for a man famous for going through life with only two sets of clothes - both olive green uniforms.

The room is locked nowadays. Palestinian officials say there is a plan to turn it into a museum, but there is a raging debate about how Arafat's most intimate surroundings should be preserved for posterity. Do they leave the quarters as they are, with dingy walls and scuffed furnishings, or apply a bit of polish to their leader's home? It is in this room that the story of Arafat's final days begins at the start of the holy month of Ramadan - which this year fell on October 15.

Around this time, members of Arafat's inner circle noticed that he had come down with what appeared to be stomach flu. On its own, a brush with illness was not surprising. Since May 2002, Arafat had not set foot outside the muqata. He had withstood a seven-week siege there in the spring of that year, holed up with his loyalists and dozens of wanted Palestinian militants while Israeli tanks roared around the streets of Ramallah. "Of course, this was not a healthy place at all," remembers Tawfiq Tirawi, the chief of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank. Like many in the inner circle, he had joined Arafat years before, coming on board in Beirut in 1973, while still a student. "There was no fresh air, no clean water. You're talking about 300 people in a 200m space. Imagine, 20 people using one toilet with no water. Everyone was getting sick."

When the siege was lifted in mid-May 2002, Arafat went out to survey his shattered domain in a helicopter tour of Bethlehem, Nablus and Jenin, where he was heckled by refugees. Then he returned to his muqata, ravaged like the rest of the West Bank by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. He would never again step outside outside the headquarters, and he resisted all efforts to clear up the wreckage left by Israel. Until the end, his muqata looked out on a 16ft mound of car wrecks, rubble and debris.

The man whose horizons had once spanned the world, who delighted in jetting around to meetings with world leaders, was definitively grounded. Arafat's Palestine had become little more than a cell: a small room on the ground floor of the compound, with a single camp bed.

In the beginning, at least, the confinement did not appear to chafe; Arafat delighted in telling visitors that he had survived one siege by Israel's Ariel Sharon - of Beirut, in 1982 - and that he would live to survive another. But the bars of the cage began to bear in on the Palestinian leader.

Although the Israeli prime minister at first allowed Arafat freedom of movement within Ramallah, he became hesitant to step outside his front door to see off visitors, joking that he would get hit by an Israeli missile. He was also mindful of the other men in the muqata, and of his responsiblities as father-protector for the dozens of militants who had taken shelter there. Arafat was convinced that should he go outside, Israel would take the last steps to destroy the edifice, both to seize the wanted men and to level what it saw as a symbol of Palestinian statehood.

Over time, Arafat's suspicions proved true, as it became clear that Israel had no intention of allowing him to roam beyond the muqata. In late 2003, after 23 Israelis were killed in a Jerusalem bus bombing, Sharon's closest aides spoke openly for the first time about assassination. "Arafat can no longer be a factor in what happens here," the deputy Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told Israel Radio, on September 14 2003. "Expulsion is certainly one of the options," he added. "Killing is also one of the options."

The isolation had a terrible effect. Intimates describe a man who grew increasingly discouraged by a political situation which most of the world saw as his own disastrous creation. "He started to become seriously worried about the political future of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people," said the man who has been a member of Arafat's inner circle for two decades.

"He started to be convinced that America would never move in the right direction to broker peace in the region. The situation was stuck and practically there was no way out," this colleague said. "It was similar to the catastrophe of 1948," the year the Jewish state was created.

Arafat's psychological state also deteriorated. Dorgham Abu Ramadan, a German-trained cardiologist from one of Gaza's leading families and one of the more recent entrants to Arafat's circle of intimates, took to visiting the muqata at weekly intervals after the doctor moved to Ramallah in 2000. "His psychology was really difficult. He was many times afraid. He wasn't concentrating. He forgot a lot - people's names - and he forgot the words for things. Sometimes he would try to explain something, and he could not. The last year, very often Arafat was not normal. His emotions and psychology were very different. He was a changed man." The account is confirmed by others who say that often Arafat would not speak for days.

At times, the bouts of listlessness were punctuated by extreme agitation, Abu Ramadan said. "He was all the time angry, agitated, and afraid of a lot of people - that the people who worked with him were out to kill him."

The inner circle

It was an acknowledged fact in the Palestinian Authority that all paths to power lay through Arafat. Those admitted to the inner circle knew membership was granted only after years of fealty. At the muqata, as in Beirut and Tunis before, the inner circle was almost exclusively male, a core of about 30 people who were a constant presence in Arafat's life.

Although graced with the title of presidential advisers, the officials of the muqata were essentially camp-followers and political operatives, not friends. "He was surrounded by a lot of - you'll forgive me - assholes, and a lot of opportunistic people, incompetent people, so if you like you can even say he was lonely," says the longtime colleague.

The so-called intimates were far less qualified than the doctor-newcomer, Abu Ramadan, to chart the signs of Arafat's decline, let alone embrace the idea that their leader had a diminished mental capacity. Even those who may have been privately worried were disinclined to intervene too strenuously with Arafat about his health. After all, there wasn't the slightest chance that he would listen.

As the advisers well knew, the late Palestinian leader was a man with supreme confidence in his own abilities, and mortally suspicious of others. He was convinced, beyond all reason, that he could perform the basic tasks of administration better than his advisers, and he was also fairly confident that he could take care of himself without recourse to modern medicine. Although Arafat had never suffered high blood pressure or other cardiac-related ailments, he delighted in chatting to Abu Ramadan about heart disease and its prevention, fancying himself something of an expert.

Officially, Arafat did have a medical attendant on call 24 hours a day, Omar Dakka, a Palestinian GP who had joined the entourage when the Palestinian leader was based in Tunis from 1983 to 1994. Arafat was also in regular communication with Ashraf Kurdi, a Jordanian neurologist who first treated him in 1992 after he survived a plane crash in the Libyan desert. But as even his doctors will admit, Arafat had a villager's suspicion of modern medicine and its practitioners, much as he liked the status of having doctors as friends. "Arafat didn't trust many people," Kurdi admits. "This was his nature. He didn't like to see doctors in general because each one tried to give him a different medicine, and he was afraid to take the wrong one, because of poisoning." He was even reluctant to take the medicine prescribed for his tremor, a condition that was often mistaken for Parkinson's disease. His only compromise was vitamins, B complex and E, which he would pop with abandon. He also had a weakness for herbal treatments.

For years, the regimen had worked. Despite his pasty complexion and what Kurdi calls a benign essential tremor, Arafat had no serious health concerns. While he followed a punishing schedule, with a work day that began at 8 or 9am and did not end until after midnight, he showed little sign of tiring. His heart was healthy, his blood pressure and blood sugar low, and his diet was exemplary: no red meat, lots of vegetables, and chicken or fish for protein. He did not drink or smoke; he even gave up caffeine, substituting camomile tea for the tiny cups of muddy coffee that Palestinians traditionally drink.

The abstemious lifestyle did not ward off all sickness. On September 25 last year - by a sad coincidence, on the same day that Arafat received a visit from the parents of Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza - he became ill. Aides said he complained of a severe headache, high fever and upset stomach. A team of doctors appeared, including Kurdi and a poisoning expert, and diagnosed a gastric upset. During that episode, Arafat was treated with common antibiotics, and recovered within a fortnight. But some of the men who saw him daily in the muqata believe that illness precipitated a steady decline.

And in the autumn of this year, that slow descent into old age and illness accelerated dramatically. Two or three days before the October 15 start of Ramadan, Arafat became very ill. His associates in the muqata describe the sudden and violent onset of a flu-like illness with vomiting and diarrhoea, and a slight fever, perhaps 1C above normal. Arafat also complained of sharp and constant pain in his abdomen. At first, aides attributed the symptoms to a stomach upset as Ramadan fasting began, and for a few days Arafat tried to cling to his work routine, putting on his military uniform and sitting at the desk in his office. He also insisted on keeping the daytime fast. But it soon became clear that this was no ordinary case of the flu. Arafat was unable to keep any food down, and he began losing weight at an alarming rate.

On October 17, he attended a meeting of the national security council. "He thought he could make it through the meeting, but it was really too much for him," said another veteran from Arafat's circle, an administrator who was at the meeting. Arafat managed to stay upright for just 10 minutes before he staggered to his private quarters.

Alarm signals

Arafat was famous for his platonic kisses. He kissed the hands of foreign dignitaries, the cheeks of his officials - sometimes six or seven times - and the injured legs of Palestinian militants. But once he retreated to his room, the kisses stopped. The visitors who queued outside his door to pay their respects were warned not to get too close for fear of catching what he thought was a bug. "He was telling everyone, 'I've got the flu, and I don't want to kiss you'," recalls Tamimi, the cleric. Arafat was still unwilling to admit he had anything more serious than bad flu.

But his inner circle was truly alarmed. On October 17, a team of doctors was summoned from Egypt, including an internist, a cardiologist, an anaesthetist and a neurologist. A day later, a team of Tunisian doctors appeared, and began working furiously to establish the source of Arafat's illness, taking daily blood, stool and urine cultures for analysis at the Ramallah hospital and in Tunisia. They also subjected their patient to an endoscopy and a spinal tap at the rudimentary clinic that had been installed about a year earlier in the compound. But while the doctors were taking Arafat's condition seriously, their patient was still proving uncooperative, according to Abu Ramadan, refusing their entreaties to visit Ramallah hospital for an MRI scan.

The Palestinian leader was also adamant about demonstrating that he was still in charge. On October 24, he rose from his sickbed for another charade intended to persuade any rivals that he was still at the helm, by attending a meeting of the PLO executive council. "When we met with him, he hardly recognised who was speaking," says one of the men in attendance. "His eyes were wandering, and they were not focused. They were going astray all the time."

By October 25, doctors were growing desperate about Arafat's chances of survival. His platelet count continued to drop, evidence that his body was succumbing to infection or disease. Over successive days, he was given four units of platelets to try to regenerate his system, but the treatment had little effect. By October 27, the platelet-count had plunged to 40,000, well below the normal range of 150,00 to 500,000. The medical team sought - and obtained - permission from Israel for Arafat to be transferred to Ramallah hospital.

The reality was also beginning to sink in on the Palestinian leader, as he lay propped on pillows on the single bed in his windowless room. He was weak, shrunken from rapid weight loss, and deathly pale, except for fiery red cheeks caused by the cortisone that he had been prescribed to bring his platelet-count up. On October 27, Tirawi filed in to pay his respects. Arafat was withdrawn. "He said: 'I hope I'll get better, but I am in a lot of pain'," the intelligence chief remembers. "He was not unconscious, but he wasn't able to concentrate, and he was forgetful."

Tirawi was overwhelmed with unease. "We should have moved him sooner," he says. "By the time he went for treatment, it was too late. It is possible that if he had gone earlier he may have recovered."

By October 28, Arafat's platelet-count was down to 26,000, and it was apparent to all his attendants that his life was in danger. Kurdi, who had been left out of the earlier medical deliberations, was summoned to Ramallah from Jordan, and the doctors decided what to do next. The facilities at Ramallah were no longer an option; Arafat's illness was too advanced. He needed treatment abroad. By that evening, Arafat's wife, Suha, had also made her way to Ramallah from her home in Tunis. It was her first reunion with her husband since she had left the Palestinian territories at the start of the intifada in 2000. She, too, wanted Arafat to be sent abroad for treatment.

But the notion was immediately quashed by Arafat, who feared that if he left Ramallah, Israel would never let him come back. "He refused to leave because he thought they wanted to drag him out of the muqata to erase a symbol of Palestinian presidency," Leila Shahid, the Palestinian representative in Paris, told the Guardian. Trying yet again to show he was in control of his faculties, Arafat had his picture taken by his official photographer. The image was hardly reassuring: instead of the olive uniform, he was wearing a powder blue tracksuit and, in place of his trademark black and white keffiyeh, a woolly hat.

But for once, at the 11th hour of their leader's illness, the entourage refused to be intimidated by Arafat. Ahmed Queria, the Palestinian prime minister, began to make discreet inquiries about treatment abroad, approaching the French consul-general in Jerusalem, Regis Koetschet, to gauge whether Paris would be prepared to send a medical plane for Arafat. In Paris, Shahid was instructed to pursue similar contacts.

For Palestinian officials, France was the obvious choice. Arafat had a good relationship with the president, Jacques Chirac, and the French were likely to respond harshly to any attempt by Israel to destroy the muqata in the Palestinian leader's absence, or to bar his return. This faith in the French authorities was rewarded: according to Shahid, Paris announced within 12 hours that it was prepared to send a plane to Amman to collect Arafat and bring him to a medical facility in France.

There was only one remaining snag: an assurance was needed from Israel that it would not use Arafat's illness as an excuse to make good on its threat to expel the Palestinian leader. On October 28, Queria got on the telephone once more, this time to Sharon, who gave his word that Arafat would be allowed to return. Queria, still unconvinced, then persuaded the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, to phone Sharon for a similar guarantee.

Thus reassured, Arafat gave his assent to his medical evacuation. Advisers felt, they later told the Guardian, that the Palestinian leader knew he was close to death and his only hope was treatment abroad. The departure from Ramallah was set for Friday, October 29, with Arafat to travel by Jordanian military helicopter to Amman, where he boarded a French medical plane for the journey to Paris.

Arafat left at daybreak on a rainy morning, with only a few hundred supporters at the muqata to watch their frail and failing leader be loaded from a black Mercedes into the waiting helicopter. At that point, he still had the strength to blow kisses to the crowd, but by the time he arrived in Paris he was too weak to face the cameras.

The flight to France

The Percy military hospital in the southern suburbs of Paris is a sprawling affair, part brand-spanking new hospital, part relic from the Indochina war. That afternoon on the last Friday of October, it was practically deserted because of a bank holiday weekend. Hospital authorities allotted the entourage a bloc of four rooms: one for Arafat, one for his wife, and two others for his chief security officer and faithful retainer Ramzi Khoury, and his on-call GP, Dakka. In another section of the hospital, the entourage, which had followed Arafat in two separate planes, was duly installed in doctors' quarters. Nasser Kidwa, Arafat's nephew and the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, arrived separately from a family holiday in France.

Arafat was put on an IV drip, and for the next five days, until the evening of November 2, his life became a battery of tests. He was regularly wheeled out of his room for procedures, and Shahid and hospital spokesmen provided regular updates to the media on his progress. In that brief period after arrival at the Percy hospital, Arafat's condition appeared to stabilise - some in the entourage even began to hope that it had improved, including Shahid, who had been shocked at Arafat's appearance when he landed in Paris. "He looked like a bird, because he had shrunk," she says. "His face was as if he had been burned by the sun. It was red, red, red, and his skin was peeling."

As the days went by, Arafat managed to eat small amounts, mainly protein shakes and yoghurt. Within 24 hours of his arrival, the Palestinian leader had felt well enough to begin to request specific flavours of protein shake, Shahid recalls. Forty-eight hours after his arrival, he had a telephone conversation with his daughter, Zahwa, aged eight, who had been left in Tunis, and with Chirac. Within 72 hours, Arafat was taking calls from Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Queria. He also took a call from Salam Fayad, the Palestinian finance minister, and asked him if he had paid that month's salaries. On November 2, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed four Israelis in Tel Aviv, he telephoned his aides in Ramallah to instruct the Palestinian Authority to issue a condemnation. In Paris, nobody had the heart to tell him that the communique had already gone out in his name. For the entourage, the intervention was a good sign; Arafat was getting better.

But French physicians - and specialists in toxicology and biological warfare - had made little progress in determining the cause of his illness. After four days of tests, they were confident that he did not suffer from leukaemia, but they had been unable to locate the cause of the blood disorder. And they knew that unless they identified the reasons for it, Arafat's chances of survival were slim. In the early hours of November 3, Shahid and the others camped at the hospital were woken by Arafat's guards with the news that the Palestinian leader had slipped into a coma. By the time the officials reached his room, Arafat had already been moved to the intensive care unit in the basement of the hospital, set apart behind a large plate glass window. The doctors, realising that time was running out to locate the cause of his illness, put him under a general anaesthetic and carried out a liver biopsy. The next day, still unconscious, he was visited by the president of France, who spent half an hour at the hospital.

In Shahid's version of events, Arafat's sudden decline fractured what had until then been a cooperative arrangement between his wife Suha and the officials of the Palestinian Authority. The first sign of discord was Suha's refusal to allow further information on Arafat's condition to be made public, a ban she was able to enforce under French privacy laws which favour the wishes of the immediate family.

"From the day he went into a coma, Mrs Arafat said: 'No, don't speak to the press any more'," says Shahid. "It was a mixture of many things, including a psychological reaction of possession." (Requests to interview Suha Arafat went unanswered.)

Other Palestinian officials had a far less charitable version of events. In their view, Suha was trying to secure payments from the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian first lady had been under investigation for a year by the French authorities for €11.5m (£7.9m) in transfers made from Swiss accounts to her accounts in Paris. But full-on hostilities were soon to commence.

On November 7, hospital authorities announced that Arafat's coma had deepened; senior officials from the Palestinian Authority announced plans to come to Paris. The combination of events sent Suha over the edge. In a fury, she rang up the television station al-Jazeera, and accused the Palestinian Authority of willing her husband's death. "Let it be known to the honest Palestinian people that a bunch of those who want to inherit are coming to Paris trying to bury Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] alive," she said. So far as Shahid was concerned, that outburst was the final break. "It shattered everything," she says. "That was the point of rupture and it would remain the major rupture between her and the Palestinian people."

The continuing lack of a diagnosis also got some Palestinians speculating that Arafat had been poisoned, presumably by Israel. The notion was reinforced by the confused and contradictory behaviour of Palestinian officials during his final days. On the day Arafat died, Kurdi announced in Amman that he had been blocked by Palestinian officials from visiting his patient for 13 days. (In Ramallah recently, a courtier who had fallen out of favour in recent years, Bassam Abu Sharif, also produced a letter he had sent Arafat in December 2002 warning of a plot to poison him. The information, he told the Guardian, came from "Israeli friends".)

The 558-page report on Arafat's final illness assembled by French doctors describes a complex disorder, known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), the main causes of which are malignancy and infection. The blood vessels are blocked by small blood clots, depleting the platelets and clotting factors needed to control bleeding, and leading to haemhorrage and death. (In Percy, Arafat was given heparin, an anti-coagulant which is the normal treatment for DIC, helping to prevent the consumption of platelets. However, it can also exacerbate any bleeding.)

But DIC is always a secondary condition. The doctors have never ventured an opinion on the underlying causes and, according to the physician Kurdi, there was a refusal by the man who later went on to succeed Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to contemplate an autopsy.

"They didn't want to do it. When you talked to them about an autopsy they would get fits," says Kurdi. "He [Abbas] said it would disturb relations with France."

Even those who discounted the idea that Shin Bet agents had at last carried out the threats of some Israeli officials to kill the Palestinian leader, put the blame on Ariel Sharon for, in effect, keeping Arafat a prisoner in his Ramallah compound, the muqata, for three years. "Israel is responsible for the condition in which he was living - the atmosphere, the location, were poisonous. But it's not as if someone put poison in his food and he died," says Tirawi.

Speaking of the popular wish for a hero's death, the long-time colleague expresses a similar view: "If we are to consider it a heroic death we should agree with the popular consensus that he was poisoned by the Israelis . . . but we don't have the evidence."

But neither speculation about the causes of Arafat's illness, nor Suha's outbursts, could stop the inevitable: Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Queria, whose stated plans to visit the hospital had so angered the first lady, began to make quiet arrangements in the event of their leader's death. Written instructions were given to the hospital about how the body should be handled so that religious and burial rites would not be compromised. Tamimi, as chief cleric, was summoned from Jerusalem. The Palestinian delegation also discussed funeral arrangements after a meeting at the Elysée palace on November 8 between Chirac and four members of the entourage: Abbas and Queria; Rawhi Fattouh, speaker of the Palestinian assembly; and Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister. It was at this meeting that Chirac suggested a ceremonial airport farewell.

The discussions were held not a moment too soon. Barely 24 hours later, on the night of November 9, Arafat suffered a cerebral haemhorrage. Tamimi held a vigil at his bedside. "It was a very painful scene," he says. "There was blood everywhere on his face. The blood was coming from every possible place. My first reaction when I saw the scene was that I didn't understand what was going on. I closed my eyes, and I started reading from the Koran . . . I looked only at Arafat's body. I couldn't face his face."

By that point, Arafat had only hours to live. At 3.30am on the morning of Thursday, November 11, as Suha and Tamimi watched over him, his heart stopped beating. Arafat was dead.

He had died, as he would have never wished, as an exile, and all that could be done for him now was to return his body to Palestine in a dignified way. As promised by Chirac, the French provided a fitting send-off at the Coublay military airport. To the strains of La Marseillaise, an honour guard carried Arafat's flag-draped casket to the waiting Airbus 319. The remains were flown to Cairo, first for an elaborate state funeral, and then later on that last Friday of Ramadan, home to Ramallah for the emotional burial that Arafat would have wanted.

After days of struggle for control over the leader, all that remained for the entourage was to squabble over his pitiful belongings. As his widow, Suha felt entitled to his uniform. After a tussle, the security detail got the trademark keffiyeh. But the war of rumour and accusation over the manner of Arafat's death, and its meaning for his political heritage, carries on.
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