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Abbas vows to continue Arafat's path for statehood

Written by: Staff

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday inaugurated a mausoleum built today Arafat's grave and vowed to continue on his iconic predecessor's path in seeking statehood.

Abbas said he hoped Arafat's wish to be buried in Jerusalem could still be fulfilled, along with Palestinians' dream of making the disputed city the capital of their future state.

''We will continue on the path to set up the independent Palestinian state with (Jerusalem) as its capital, God willing,'' Abbas said at an unveiling ceremony in the occupied West Bank.

Arafat, founder of the secular Fatah movement in the 1960s, spearheaded the Arab fight against Israel before signing an interim peace deal in 1993. That agreement broke down in botched talks over a final accord, leading to a 2000 Palestinian revolt.

The Palestinian Authority under Abbas, having broken with Hamas Islamists who seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, has sought rapprochement with Israel. Abbas expects to discuss Palestinian statehood at an upcoming US-hosted conference.

Ahead of the talks in Annapolis, Maryland, Palestinian forces have deployed in Nablus, a tinderbox West Bank city seen as the proving ground for a vow by Abbas to curb militants. On Saturday, police reported a significant arms haul in Nablus.

''The police and other security forces have seized dozens of suspicious objects and home-made explosive devices ... we found more than 100 devices and suspect objects hidden in various places and we have detonated many of them,'' Ahmad Sharqawi, the chief of Palestinian police in Nablus, told Reuters.

Israel, which is trying to bolster Abbas against Hamas rivals who seized the Gaza Strip in June, approved the Nablus deployment. If it is successful, Palestinian forces could assume control in other West Bank towns, Israeli officials say.

PINING FOR ARAFAT Though Arafat failed to deliver them a state in territory occupied by Israel in a 1967 Middle East war, many Palestinians miss the charisma, cunning and street clout with which he cobbled together a national consensus among rival factions.

Arafat died in a French hospital on Nov 11, 2004 after being shunned by Israel and the United States as an obstacle to peace. Abbas enjoys broad foreign support yet his domestic mandate is in doubt given the rift with Hamas and Israel's West Bank grip.

''Yasser Arafat has departed, but he left you, President Abbas, with a heavy burden and a difficult legacy,'' Mohammed Ishtayeh, a former Palestinian cabinet minister who supervised the construction of the mausoleum, told Abbas in a speech.

The new structure, built of marble and Jerusalem stone adorned with Koranic verses, features a mosque and a minaret as well as an ornamental pool. The Palestinians also plan to open an Arafat memorial museum in the nearby government headquarters.

Israel seized control of West Bank cities, handed to the Palestinian Authority under the 1993 interim Oslo peace deal, after the outbreak of the uprising and had barred Palestinian security forces from operating in them until recently.

Israel also launches frequent raids against Palestinian militants in Nablus and controls entry to the city through checkpoints, which it says are needed to stop suicide bombers.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian ambulance workers said they recovered the bodies of two teenagers who were shot dead on Friday by Israeli troops close to the border fence in the northern part of the territory.

An Israeli army spokesman said the two men had been spotted crawling towards the fence and were shot by troops.


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