Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday inaugurated a $1.75 million mausoleum built over Yasser Arafat's grave and vowed to press on with his iconic predecessor's drive for a Palestinian state.
Abbas, who is preparing for a U.S.-hosted peace conference with Israel, said he hoped Arafat's wish to be buried in Jerusalem would be realized along with the Palestinians' dream of making the Arab East of the city their capital.
The mausoleum, made of glass and beige Jerusalem stone, is surrounded on three sides by water, and a piece of rail track is entombed underneath Arafat's grave. The water and piece of track are meant to symbolize the temporary nature of the grave, officials said, with Palestinians planning to rebury their leader one day in Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.
Arafat died November 11, 2004 in a French military hospital and was buried on the grounds of his West Bank headquarters, now used by Abbas. The mausoleum measures 11 meters by 11 meters (120 square feet) to mark the day of his death. A mosque was built next to the tomb, and an Arafat museum is slated to open next year.
During the ceremony, Abbas laid a wreath in the colors of the Palestinian flag on the tombstone and honored his one-time rival with a moment of silence.
"We will continue on the path of the martyred President Yasser Arafat to be reburied in Jerusalem, which he loved... Jerusalem, which he tried to make, and which all our people are trying to make, the capital of the Palestinian state," Abbas said.
In another reference to Jerusalem, the tower of the mosque next to the mausoleum is topped by a laser light pointing to the holy city, just a few miles away, said Mohammed Ishtayeh, head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, the organization that built the structure.
Drawing on the legacy of the charismatic Arafat may give a boost to Abbas as he heads to the Annapolis conference, expected to begin November 26.
The somber Abbas does not enjoy the wild popularity of Arafat. Abbas also faces a stiff challenge from the Islamic militant Hamas which seized control of the Gaza Strip by force in June. Hamas claim that Abbas does not have the mandate to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people.
In Saturday's speech, Abbas drew on the Palestinians' strong emotional ties to Arafat. "We are continuing the path, continuing the pledge, to establish an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, God willing," said Abbas.
The unveiling ceremony on Saturday was attended by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as well as representatives of the diplomatic staff in East Jerusalem and Ramallah.
A memorial service marking the third anniversary of Arafat's death is scheduled for Sunday, to be held at the West Bank compound. Abbas is expected to give an address, as will a top official belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am - Ta'al) is also planning to speak at the ceremony.
A similar gathering is scheduled to take place Monday in Gaza.
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