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Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat Dies at 75

Yasser Arafat, who for four decades symbolized the struggle for a Palestinian homeland, died early Thursday in a hospital near Paris. The Palestinian leader was 75.

His body was being taken to Cairo, where a funeral is scheduled Friday. He will be buried Saturday in a public ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the ruined headquarters where he was holed up the last four years of his life.

In a statement, President Bush called Arafat's death "a significant moment in Palestinian history. We express our condolences to the Palestinian people. 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."

The Palestinian parliament speaker, Rauhi Fattouh, was sworn in Thursday as Palestinian Authority president.

Many Palestinians revered Arafat as the embodiment of their national aspirations, first in his role as guerrilla fighter and then as a peacemaker and a de facto statesman. At the same time, his rule over the Palestinian territories was criticized as being authoritarian and harboring corruption. Many Israelis never stopped regarding Arafat as a terrorist.

While the place of Arafat's birth has remained an open question, it is known that his parents separated before he was born on August 24, 1929. His mother died when Arafat was four years old and he was raised by relatives in Jerusalem. He then attended college in Cairo, where he became involved in political and social causes.

In Cairo, Arafat headed the Palestinian students association. When war with the newly declared state of Israel erupted in 1948, he spent a few weeks fighting. An Israeli biographer, Danny Rubinstein, says that afterward, Arafat became a tireless advocate for a Palestinian homeland.

After graduating, Arafat moved to Kuwait and a job as a civil engineer. Another biographer, John Wallach, says Arafat's life there was stable, and productive. "He was once a millionaire.... He earned his first million dollars as an engineer laying out roads in Kuwait. He loved to drive a red Thunderbird convertible," Wallach said.

In Kuwait, Arafat continued to participate in Palestinian politics, organizing his own guerrilla group, Fatah. After Israel trampled Arab armies in the 1967 war, Arafat infiltrated the newly occupied West Bank to round up support. He circulated under the nose of Israeli soldiers, often in disguise, once dressed as a woman.

His daring impressed people, and by the late 1960s he was leading the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella organization for a number of Palestinian groups. Arafat moved the group to Jordan, until his fighters clashed with King Hussein. In 1970 he fled to Lebanon.

In 1982, Arafat and the PLO were driven from Lebanon by an Israeli invasion and moved the organization's headquarters to Tunis. Arafat's exile in Tunisia caused a vacuum in the Palestinian political leadership, giving rise to Islamic fundamentalism and an Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

In 1993, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn after signing the historic Oslo peace agreement, which envisioned the creation of a Palestinian state. The following year, Arafat made a triumphant return to Palestinian territory and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with two Israeli leaders.

In 2000, an effort by President Bill Clinton to revive the Middle East peace process ended in failure, when Arafat walked away from a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Soon afterward, a second Palestinian intifada began. Approximately 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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