Roundup: Palestinians mark 18th anniversary of late leader Arafat's death

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GAZA/RAMALLAH, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Palestinians on Thursday commemorated the 18th anniversary of the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the coastal enclave of Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of local residents participated in a rally for the first time in five years after a ban was lifted by the ruling Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).

Many participants raised flags of Palestine and the Fatah party, while carrying huge portraits of Arafat and chanting slogans saluting him as the "spark of the Palestinian revolution."

As the Fatah's founder, former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and president of the Palestinian National Authority, Arafat has been revered by many Palestinians as the embodiment of their national aspirations.

During the gathering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a recorded speech that Arafat had left "a rich national legacy for us that we all have to preserve and develop."

Abbas vowed his movement would follow the same path as Arafat's, stressing that the Fatah-led PLO will remain the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

"The internal division with Hamas has taken our issue steps backwards ... and threatens to waste the gains made by the Palestinian people, the price of which was exorbitant sacrifices of the martyrs, prisoners and wounded," Abbas said.

He added that the Palestinians will not accept less than an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas also called on the Palestinians to prepare for the next stage "to thwart the Israeli annexation plans as we defeated them before."

Amed Helles, a senior Fatah official in Gaza, underlined the importance of restoring reconciliation between Palestinian political factions as soon as possible, in order to hold democratic elections and create a suitable life for the new generations who deserve to live in dignity.

In the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians marched through the city Ramallah at noon toward the mausoleum of Arafat, carrying his portraits and chanting slogans of "You will be in hearts, minds and future."

"We are here to tell the world that we keep his approach and values so that we can complete his path until we achieve what he was martyred for," said Mahmoud al-Aloul, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah.

"The Palestinians are facing many challenges in the current stage," he said, adding Israeli right-wing bloc's winning Israeli elections last week would threaten the Palestinian land and the holy place of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.

"In a bid to protect ourselves from the Israeli violations, we (Palestinians) have to unify our national efforts through achieving reconciliation soon," al-Aloul said.

He also called on the international community to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli actions and practices.

On Nov. 11, 2004, Arafat died at the age of 75 at a military hospital near Paris, France due to an unknown illness.

Arafat's remains were exhumed in November 2012 to take samples for investigations, during which polonium substances were found after tests by French, Swiss and Russian scientists.

Arafat's wife resorted to French judiciary to look into her husband's death. In September 2015, French judges investigating the claims closed the case without bringing any charges. Enditem

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