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Palestinians mourn death of Husseini

Husseini Funeral
The flag-draped coffin of Faisal Husseini is returned to the West Bank town of Ramallah  

JERUSALEM -- Hundreds have gathered in east Jerusalem to mourn the death of Faisal Husseini, one of the most prominent campaigners for the Palestinian cause.

Husseini, 60, died of a heart attack Thursday during a visit to Kuwait.

He was a top Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official and minister for Jerusalem affairs, a central figure in the struggle for Palestinian statehood.

His activities in the PLO date back to 1964. In the 1980s, after spending several years in Israeli jails and under house arrest, he became active in trying to foster coexistence with the Israeli people.

Using the Hebrew he had taught himself to be able to reach out to Israelis, Husseini was a frequent guest on Israeli television and radio talk shows, explaining the Palestinian point of view.


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However, his positions hardened during the current fighting with Israel, and he was in Kuwait to take part in a seminar on freezing normalization with Israel when he died.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian council member, told CNN: "He was a genuine man of the people, and he was characterized by his high sense of values, his honesty, his integrity, his unwavering commitment to his people and human dimension."

She said Husseini, a pragmatist who had advocated co-operation with the Israelis in the past, had suffered all his life from asthma.

She said his trip to Kuwait was a difficult one because officials there were not sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. "I think it was the stress, plus the asthma, and the exhaustion that led to his early demise," said Ashrawi.

Shops have been closed and three days of commercial strikes have been announced in historically Arab east Jerusalem. The Palestinian flag was flying at half-mast on Orient House, the headquarters of the PLO, while black flags flew at others.

As news of Husseini's death spread, hundreds of Palestinians arrived at Orient House to share their grief, reciting passages from the Koran.

A statement from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat paid tribute to the minister's work in "foiling the attempts by Israel to annex and to Judaize the Holy City," Reuters reported.

"The Palestinian people today have lost one of their most prominent leaders and strugglers who never gave up the fight despite exile, occupation or siege," it said.

Husseini's bodyguard Wahid Shidani told Reuters "It's a great loss for the Arab people, for the Palestinian people and for the struggle for Jerusalem."

Abdel Q'ader Husseini, Faisal Husseini's son, told Reuters his father would be buried at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound.


"They told us he died at night in his sleep. I seems it was a natural death," he said. "This is God's will.

"All the Palestinians will continue the role of my father to make Jerusalem an Arab, open and free city," he added, surrounded by more than 300 mourners, many of them weeping.

"If there was a man you could find a shared language with, it was Faisal Husseini," Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor in Jerusalem, told Israeli radio. "The language of peace suffered a serious blow today."

His body is being flown to Amman, Jordan. Palestinian leader Arafat is due to accompany the coffin to the West Bank.

The body is due to be buried Friday after noon prayers, Palestinian officials told the Associated Press.

Several Arab-Israeli leaders were among the mourners gathered at Orient House, including Azmi-Bishara, an Arab parliament member in the Knesset who said: "I lost a friend and a big leader in Palestine and Jerusalem.

"We must think a lot to fill the space that he leaves empty now," he told the Associated Press.

• Palestinian National Authority
• The Israeli Parliament

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