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Palestinians set for Arafat funeral

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CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- World leaders and representatives will gather in Cairo, Egypt Friday morning for the funeral of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died early Thursday in Paris.

Arafat is revered by his supporters as a peacemaker and the father of the Palestinian cause for independence, and deemed a murderer by Israelis, who blame him for supporting terrorist groups.

Arafat, 75, died at 3:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) Wednesday at a French military hospital outside of Paris.

Some international heads of state, including South African President Thabo Mbeki and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will attend the funeral in Cairo; most Western countries will send lower-level representatives.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns will officially represent the United States, while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will represent London.

A ceremony to honor Arafat took place at the Villacoublay air base in Paris Thursday before his body was flown to Cairo.

A military funeral will take place near Cairo's airport Friday at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT), amid three days of official mourning in Egypt, according to a spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Arafat's body will then be taken to Ramallah aboard an Egyptian military helicopter, according to the Mubarak spokesman.

Israel refused Arafat's request to be buried in Jerusalem, agreeing to allow his interment at his compound in Ramallah, West Bank, where he had been confined for nearly three years before falling ill in recent weeks.

His burial in Ramallah is scheduled to take place between 2 and 3 p.m. Friday (1200-1300 GMT), Palestinian officials said. Thousands of Palestinian people are expected to attend, although it is not clear if any Arab leaders will be there.

In Ramallah, bulldozers and trucks have been busy around Arafat's headquarters compound, moving burned-out cars and the rubble of destroyed buildings left from three years of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli troops had confined Arafat to his compound for nearly three years before allowing him to be flown to Paris October 29 for treatment of what doctors said was a blood platelet deficiency, and Palestinian officials say tests have yet to yield a more definitive diagnosis.

Crews in Ramallah are also preparing to construct a moveable monument in which to bury the Palestinian leader -- one that could be transported to Jerusalem one day, Palestinian sources said.

Arafat was born in Cairo in 1929, and Arab media reports have said the funeral service would be in accordance with his will.

The Israeli government said it would allow a funeral procession for Arafat in Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority will be responsible for security inside Ramallah. Israeli troops will be in charge of security outside the West Bank city.

Israel ordered a general closure of the West Bank and Gaza Thursday morning, according to the Israel Defense Forces, as the region prepares for Arafat's burial.

Israeli citizens will be allowed to attend the funeral in Ramallah, but only Palestinian VIPs will be allowed to travel from Gaza to Ramallah for the service. Israeli police will be on special alert in Jerusalem, the Israeli government said.

Amid the funeral preparations, the Palestinian political structure immediately shifted to replace the leadership vacuum following Arafat's death.

The speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Rawhi Fattuh, was sworn in as the Palestinian Authority's interim president Thursday. Elections to replace Arafat will be held within 60 days, according to the authority's basic law.

And former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization following an anonymous vote by the PLO executive committee, according to Palestinian officials.

Abbas was serving as acting PLO head after Arafat -- the previous PLO chief -- fell ill.

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