Arafat 'a great leader and a great man', says Ahern


The Government will be represented at Mr Yasser Arafat's funeral in Cairo tomorrow by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern.

The Taoiseach led tributes to the Palestinian leader this morning, after his death in a Paris hospital.

In a statement, the Taoiseach offered his "condolences, thoughts and prayers to the late President's family and to the Palestinian people on the loss of a great leader and a great man."

It is perhaps the most tragic aspect of President Arafat's death that he did not live to see the fruition of his ambition of a Palestinian state
The Taoiseach

"Throughout the life of the Middle East peace process, President Arafat has always been a key symbol of national unity for the Palestinian people," Mr Ahern said.

"It is perhaps the most tragic aspect of President Arafat's death that he did not live to see the fruition of his ambition of a Palestinian state, despite the early promise which attended his election as President of the Palestinian Authority.

"I regarded President Arafat as a friend of Ireland and, indeed, a personal friend. I recall our many meetings in past years, including during my visit to Gaza in 1998, when there seemed to be so many reasons to be optimistic about the prospects of a two-state solution becoming a reality.

"It is tragic that the vision we shared at that time has been frustrated by the subsequent descent into violence and mutual recrimination. He will be greatly missed," the Taoiseach concluded.

The President, Mrs McAleese, also conveyed her sympathies to the Palestinian people.

In a message to new Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the President said that she had learned with great sadness of the death of Mr Arafat whom she had met on a number of occasions and who had impressed her with his "unwavering commitment to the Palestinian people and their future in the region",

The President said Mr Arafat has been a key figure in the efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

"His passing is a tragic loss to the Palestinian people for whom he has been a unifying figure for decades. We must hope that the efforts which he began to bring peace to the region and a state to his people will find fruition in the near future."

The President asked that her deepest sympathy be conveyed to Mr Arafat's widow, and family and to the people of Palestine.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Ahern, said his "thoughts and condolences go out to the Palestinian people and to President Arafat's wife and daughter".

"His role in the struggle for Palestinian statehood has been unparallelled, an achievement most visibly underlined in the Nobel Peace Prize he shared with the late Yizhak Rabin."

Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams, said the most fitting legacy to President Arafat will be a sovereign Palestinian state.

The Sinn Féin leader has sent his condolences to President Arafat's wife Suha, to his family and to the Palestinian people in a phone call to Ambassador Ali Halimeh in Dublin.

"Throughout a lifetime in struggle President Yasser Arafat has not only been a father of the Palestinian people he has been an inspiration to people throughout the world as he led the struggle for a sovereign Palestinian state," Mr Adams said.

"There is a close affinity and affection between the Irish and Palestinian people and his death this evening will be a cause of much sorrow."

Labour Party president and spokesperson on foreign affairs, Mr Michael D Higgins, said his historic achievement will be to have held together a disparate coalition of groups under the umbrella of the PLO and to have transformed that group into a recognised political entity.

"After the 1967 War, his achievement in organising a demoralised Palestinian people had as its crowning moment his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1974.

"From that moment on, the struggle of the Palestinian people had international recognition."

Fine Gael leader, Mr Enda Kenny, said he was "saddened" by Mr Arafat's death.

"Through his life, Mr Arafat was synonymous with the Palestinian cause. He was an enduring symbol of Palestinian unity, resolve and resistance," he said.

He added: "Yasser Arafat made mistakes. He missed opportunities. But, his mistakes must be weighed against the enormity of what, through the years, he found himself up against, typified by Israeli intransigence and the tinderbox that is Gaza."