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Arafat’s Death Sparks Hope, Pessimism for Renewed Peace Talks

In the Arab world, officials said Arafat’s death would mark the end of an era and would weigh heavily on any hopes for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian question and his absence will certainly be greatly felt,” said Hossam Zaki, spokesman of the Arab League in Cairo. “But to all those who think his passing away will open all the doors for peace, we say that this is false and that the answers never really lay with the Palestinians as much as with the Israelis.”

The militant group Hamas was even more combative, saying their violent campaign against Israel would continue.

“The loss of the great leader will increase our determination and steadfastness to continue Jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy until victory and liberation is achieved,” the group said in a statement.

In Western capitals, leaders expressed sadness for the Palestinian people, but added they hoped prospects for peace would be bolstered. Both Israel and the United States had said they could not negotiate with Arafat in good faith.

“The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinian history. We express our condolences to the Palestinian people,” President Bush said in a statement late Wednesday night. “For the Palestinian people, we hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent, democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbors.”

In France, President Jaques Chirac, the last world leader to see the ailing Palestinian president alive, said in a statement he would redouble his efforts to see the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state.

“It is with emotion that I have learnt of the death of President Yasser Arafat,” Chirac said. “France, like its partners in the European Union, will maintain, firmly and with conviction, its commitment to two states … living side by side in peace and security. The road map, approved by Yasser Arafat, opens up that prospect.”

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II’s spokesman said, “The Holy See joins the pain of the Palestinian people for the passing of President Yasser Arafat. He was a leader of great charisma who loved his people and tried to guide them towards national independence.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Americans recognized the significance of Arafat’s passing.

“We know that, in the eyes of the Palestinian people, Arafat embodied their hopes and dreams for the achievement of an independent Palestinian state,” Powell said.

“We will do all we can to support and help the Palestinian people move forward toward peace during this period of transition, and we encourage others in the region and the international community to do the same,” Powell added.

Palestinian officials said they also hoped long-stalled peace efforts could begin again.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told CNN the international community should work to assemble “a meeting that will bring the two parties together, that will establish the road for them to resume negotiations.”

Although there was unanimous sympathy for the Palestinian people, some leaders also said that Arafat’s unwillingness or inability to see the peace effort through to completion would tarnish his name.

“I think history will judge him very harshly for not having seized the opportunity in the year 2000 to embrace the offer that was very courageously made by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that involved the Israelis agreeing to about 90 percent of what the Palestinians wanted,” said Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

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