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Leaders pay tribute to Arafat

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After the opening prayer, funeral services begin for Yasser Arafat.

Arafat's coffin was taken first by hearse, then by horse-drawn carriage.

A look back at the life and political career of Yasser Arafat.

How the world viewed Yasser Arafat.
Will Yasser Arafat's death mark a turning point in the Middle East peace process?
Yasser Arafat

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- World leaders and Palestinian representatives gathered in Cairo Friday morning for Yasser Arafat's military funeral service.

The funeral came hours before chaotic scenes in the West Bank town of Ramallah where the late Palestinian leader's body was transferred by helicopter and laid to rest in front of a crowd of thousands.

The body arrived in the Egyptian capital later in the day amid pomp and circumstance, with a military band and a red carpet.

It was flown from a French military air base after Arafat, 75, died Thursday in a Paris hospital after falling into a deep coma that followed a brain hemorrhage.

Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi Azhar gave the opening prayer at Cairo's al-Jalaal mosque, starting the official funeral ceremony.

"Arafat served his people all his life until he faced his God with courage and honesty," Azhar said. "May his soul rest in peace."

Following the prayer, the coffin was taken to the mosque, first by hearse, then by horse-drawn carriage for a military procession through the streets of Cairo to Al-Maza Air Base.

Egyptian soldiers and a military band accompanied the Palestinian flag-draped coffin. Dignitaries -- led by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- walked behind the carriage.

The streets were cordoned off, preventing Egyptian citizens from participating in the procession.

Arafat's widow, Suha, and his 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa, were among the crowd of dignitaries looking on as the coffin was placed on an Egyptian military cargo plane at the air base.

From there, it was flown to Al-Arish airport, just south of the Egypt-Israel border, where it was ferried to Ramallah via helicopter for the burial service.

Arafat, who was born in Cairo in 1929, is renowned in the Arab world for pushing the Palestinian cause, while deemed a murderer by Israelis who blamed him for blocking peace and backing terrorists.

For that reason, Israel refused to allow his burial in Jerusalem.

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

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns officially represented the United States, while Foreign Secretary Jack Straw represented Britain.

Arab leaders were present in large numbers.

Most had urged Egypt to host the funeral because they would not be able to attend the burial in Ramallah because they would have to travel through Israel and only two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, have peace treaties with Israel.

Although his death leaves no clear successor in the often fractious world of Palestinian politics, Palestinian parliament speaker Rawhi Fattuh has been sworn in as interim president of the Palestinian Authority.

Elections to find a permanent replacement for Arafat are set to take place within 60 days.

During Arafat's illness, Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei was in charge of the Palestinian Authority, while Mahmoud Abbas led the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee.

On Thursday, the PLO's executive committee unanimously approved Abbas, a former Palestinian prime minister, to replace Arafat as PLO chairman. (Full story)

Across five decades, Arafat -- adorned with his trademark checkered kaffiyeh -- was the most prominent face of Palestinian opposition to Israel, first as the head of the PLO, which carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, and later as the head of the quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority, after parts of the West Bank and Gaza were returned to Palestinian control.

Arafat is survived by his widow, whom he married in 1991, and their daughter, Zahwa, who was born in 1995.

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