Francois Mori  /  AP
Morrocan-born Badrane Lachab places a candle at the makeshift shrine for ailing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in front of the Percy Military Teaching hospital in Clamart outside Paris Sunday.
updated 11/7/2004 11:58:19 AM ET 2004-11-07T16:58:19

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday that security officials have completed preparations for Yasser Arafat to be buried in the Gaza Strip, meeting participants said.

The plans include busing Palestinians from the West Bank through Israel to the coastal Gaza Strip and flying in Arab leaders who don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel, security officials said.

Palestinian officials have said Arafat, who is ailing in a French hospital, wants to be buried in Jerusalem.

Israel has rejected that outright, signaling the first round of a battle over Arafat’s burial.

Israeli officials have suggested Gaza as a possible burial site, but say the Palestinians have not made any requests about a final resting place while Arafat is alive.

Israel sees Gaza as only option
Israeli security officials say Gaza is the only burial option. Even a compromise initially floated by army planners — interment in the West Bank suburb of Abu Dis, which offers a view of Al Aqsa — has since been ruled out by the military.

Army officials also oppose burial elsewhere in the West Bank, in part because Palestinian security forces would have trouble protecting the large numbers of foreign dignitaries expected for the event.

Palestinian police function better in Gaza, but a funeral there would still pose a security nightmare for visiting heads of state. There has been increasing chaos in recent months in the coastal strip, with groups of gunmen and security chiefs battling for control ahead of a planned Israeli troop withdrawal next year.

Israeli military officials have said they would ease travel restrictions on Palestinians during the funeral, but if the burial is in Gaza, only officials — and not the general public — will be allowed to travel there from the West Bank to attend. If the funeral is in Ramallah, the Palestinian public will be allowed to participate, but will have to endure rigorous checks at roadblocks, the officials say.

Under “Operation New Leaf,” drawn up to deal with Arafat’s death, the army has already begun decreasing its presence in Palestinian towns and cities, security officials said on condition of anonymity.

Rival Palestinian groups, including Islamic militants, gathered Friday in Gaza in a show of unity they hoped would prevent the region from spiraling into further violence in the face of Arafat’s increasingly dire condition.

Israeli officials, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said they were instructed to prepare for the arrival of foreign envoys for the funeral, but the Palestinians weren’t ready yet to cooperate in the planning.

Arafat’s clan, the Al-Kidwas, are originally from Gaza, though the Palestinian leader grew up in Jerusalem and Cairo. The family has a small plot of 25 to 30 graves in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. The overgrown patch is in the middle of a busy vegetable market and would not be considered appropriate.

Other burial options include a seaside plot next to his old headquarters in Gaza City, or Gaza City’s “martyrs’ cemetery” east of the city, close to Israel.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Qadoura Fares said Arafat’s burial could be an opening for a new relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Israel has the chance to make far-reaching gestures,” he said. “I think that how the Israeli leaders act ... Palestinians will take notice.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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