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Peres funeral will bring back memories of Rabin and Arafat


Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP | 

When Shimon Peres is laid to rest on Friday, his funeral is likely to bring back memories of those of the other two men he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with: Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

But his burial is unlikely to be similar in tone to the other two men.

Israel was in a state of deep shock after then prime minister Rabin was shot dead by a Jewish extremist in 1995.

The assassination came only a year after the three men won the Nobel prize for their roles in brokering the Oslo peace accords, which were supposed to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

When they moved Rabin’s body to Jerusalem, thousands of Israeli motorists lined the highway, headlights blazing as a sign of mourning.

When his body was laid in state the day before the funeral, the queue of Israelis waiting to pay their respects to the 73-year-old premier stretched for almost three kilometres (two miles).

While thousands of Israelis were filing past Peres’s coffin Thursday, the numbers are not expected to be similar.

At Rabin’s state funeral, many of the world’s top leaders were in attendance.

US President Bill Clinton was present, and he will also attend Peres’s funeral Friday along with incumbent Barack Obama.

King Hussein of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attended Rabin’s funeral, both making their first visits to Jerusalem since Israel occupied its eastern sector in 1967.

Dignitaries from Qatar and Oman were also present, despite neither state having diplomatic relations with Israel.

So far, no Arab countries have confirmed whether any senior officials will attend Peres’s funeral.

When Palestinian leader Arafat was laid to rest in 2004 at the age of 75 there was no such political roll-call.

As the peace process stumbled, Arafat became ostracised and spent much of his final years holed up in his headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

When he died, US President George W. Bush did not attend the ceremony held in the Egyptian capital Cairo, nor did other major Western leaders — though dozens of largely second-tier foreign dignitaries were present.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were in attendance, however.

There were scenes of chaos when Arafat’s body was flown by helicopter from Cairo to Ramallah as bereaved Palestinians jostled to get close to the man they saw as a hero.

Thousands of Palestinians surged around the Egyptian military helicopter, with overwhelmed Palestinian security forces shooting into the air.

The crowds prevented the coffin draped in the Palestinian flag from being unloaded for some 20 minutes and then swarmed the car as it was driven to Arafat’s Ramallah compound.

At one stage a wooden structure inside the compound collapsed under the weight of a throng of mourners, causing injuries.


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