Yasser Arafat's home in Gaza City will be opened as a museum after Hamas handed it back to Fatah, the party Arafat founded, in a ceremony on November 11th, the anniversary of Arafat’s death in 2004.
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The house has been closed since the Islamic militant group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007.
Faisal Abu Shahla, a member of Fatah's revolutionary council, said it was an emotional moment to enter the house, where Arafat resided from 1994 to 2001. The museum will tell the story of Arafat's life, Shahla said.
During his years as a statesman, Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for the Oslo Peace Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority and its rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arafat then became the first president of the authority.
During his final years, at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, Arafat lived under Israeli siege in the presidential compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. After falling ill in the fall of 2004, the 75-year-old leader was flown to France, where he died in a military hospital under controversial circumstances.
After taking over the Gaza Strip, Hamas has harassed and tortured Fatah supporters and barred most of their public activities. Fatah was allowed to mark Arafat's Nov. 11 death only once, in 2007, and Hamas used lethal force to disperse the rally, killing at least six.
The two movements signed a reconciliation deal in 2014 and formed a transitional government to end the political split between Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas has barely given up any control in Gaza, insisting the Palestinian Authority pay salaries for some 40,000 employees Hamas hired to run Gaza since 2007. But the tension between Hamas and Fatah has eased in recent months.
The two parties have made symbolic gestures. Handing over of Arafat's house was one of them. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his party handed the house over to the Yasser Arafat Foundation after the approval of Arafat's widow, Suha. Abu Zuhri considered the move a "national and positive signal that should be built on to achieve national unity."
The officials at the handover stressed Palestinian reconciliation. "Arafat always called for national unity, believing that it was the main goal," said Zakaria al-Agha, the top Fatah official in Gaza.
The house, located near a security compound under Hamas' control, is full of Arafat artifacts. Old computer screens and photocopy machines sit on desks on the first floor. Arafat's military uniforms are laid out on his bed. The walls are adorned with pictures of Arafat and his wife and daughter.
It was the first time the house was opened to the media. Jameel Al-Majdalawi, a board member of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, told The Associated Press that the establishment "will work on transforming this house to a national museum for all our people, where we will collect the heritage of this peerless leader."
Palestinian factions' representatives sat on the second floor of the house, which has a wide living and dining room. “This house is the mother and father's home for us and we hope that Hamas follows this step with more steps to end the division," Zakaria Al-Agha said.
Ismail Haniya, Hamas' Gaza chief, said handing over the house on the anniversary of Arafat's death emphasized that the case of the leader's assassination remains open and is a national issue.