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Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat - 2004-11-11


As a life-long advocate for an independent Palestinian homeland, Yasser Arafat's reputation spanned from terrorist to peacemaker to perceived obstacle to peace.

Although he never realized his dream of a Palestinian nation, he worked for more than four decades to make the Palestinian cause a central political issue around the world.

Yasser Arafat was born August 24, 1929. He said he was born in Jerusalem, but other reports say he was born in Cairo or Gaza. He first entered politics in the 1950s at the University of Cairo, where he joined groups championing the Palestinian cause.

He later founded the influential Fatah group -- a Palestinian faction that launched attacks on Israel in the 1960s. Those factions later banded together under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Under Mr. Arafat's leadership, the PLO launched attacks in Israel, hijacked airliners and sparked armed conflicts in Jordan and Lebanon.

In the late 1980s, he began to turn away from violence and toward diplomacy, and returned to the occupied territories from Tunisia, where he had lived in exile for 10 years.

He helped achieve the 1993 Oslo Accords for Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories. For their efforts, Mr. Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Oslo Accords have not been realized, however, and in 2000 the peace process faltered, ushering in a new wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

In his final months, Mr. Arafat remained influential in Palestinian politics, but was frozen out of the peace process by Israel and the United States, who said he was not a partner for peace.

In 2001, Israel virtually confined Mr. Arafat to his Ramallah headquarters.

Yasser Arafat is survived by his wife, Suha, and their 9-year old daughter, Zahwa.

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