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Monday, November 08, 2004

A very appropriate place for Arafat to be buried

KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip (AFP) - Unkempt, ankle deep in rubbish and the air thick with flies from the stinking market next door, the Arafat family plot could not be a more inauspicious burial place for the icon of Palestinian nationhood.

As Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) fights for life in a Paris hospital, Israel has made clear that it will not accede to the veteran Palestinian leader's wishes to be buried in Jerusalem and instead wants his final resting place to be in Gaza where his father and sister are already entombed.

Less than 100 square metres (yards) with two dozen tombs already in pride of place, a minimum of mourners would be able to crowd the site, stumbling over the the roughshod ground to pay their last respects.

Hidden behind a cement wall and accessible through a solitary white, metal door encrusted with mud, nothing could be less imposing or more humiliating for a man who is now unlikely to achieve his dream of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Bin liners, a child's T-shirt and a traditional red keffiyeh (headdress of the type favoured by Arafat) are ground into the dust. Empty crisp bags, milk cartons, plastic bottles and broken glass are strewn across the burnt grass.

Overgrown scarlet and white bougainvillia do nothing to sweeten the nauseating stench of rotting fruit and meat, laced with dung from half-dead donkeys tied up in the adjacent market.

Laundry hanging from a run-down high-rise flat flaps over the grave of Arafat's sister, Yussra al-Qidwa, who was laid to rest in August last year, alongside their father.

But locals used to the filth and stench of the depressed town barely even notice, shrugging their shoulders when asked if they thought it a befitting final resting place for the hero of their struggle for freedom.