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Yasser Arafat: Controversial Palestinian defender

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Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a contentious figure on the world stage for almost a half-century, died on Nov. 11, 2004 at age 75. In this Sept. 5, 2000 Newsworld clip, Arafat tells reporters he appreciates Canada's efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. He was in Ottawa meeting Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on the eve of peace talks in New York.

To some, the bearded figure topped by a trademark kaffiyeh headscarf was a living symbol of the bitter Palestinian struggle for statehood and the presumed peace it could bring to the Middle East. To others, Arafat was a terrorist with Israeli blood on his hands. Born in 1929, he became politically active as a teen. In 1969 - two years after the Six-Day War, when Israel defeated its Arab neighbours - Arafat became PLO chairman.

Arafat became known as the voice of Palestinians. But the PLO was criticized for its ties to terrorist acts, including the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In the 1980s, the PLO said it was renouncing terror and would focus on diplomatic pressure. In 1994, Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, for signing historic Oslo peace accords. In 1995, Rabin was assassinated.

The peace accords began to unravel. Arafat entered the new millennium with his Palestinian support shifting to radical groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Some of that support returned after Israel confined Arafat to his Ramallah compound and the U.S. tried to sideline him from peace talks. In September 2003, the Israeli security cabinet voted to "remove" him but no action was taken. Undaunted, Arafat never wavered in his determination for a Palestinian homeland.  

• Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Kudwa al-Husseini was born Aug. 24, 1929 in Cairo (he often claimed it was Jerusalem). He was nicknamed "Yasser" which means "easygoing" in Arabic. In 1933, after his mother died, he stayed in Cairo with his father and six siblings.

• Arafat made his first of two visits to Canada in March 1999. Prime Minister Jean Chétien visited Arafat in Gaza in April 2000. Alberta's Ralph Klein is the only premier to have had an official meeting with Arafat. Klein spoke with the PLO leader in Gaza while visiting the Middle East in June 1995 as part of a trade-promotion trip.

• In 1990, Arafat married Palestinian Suha Tawil, the 26-year-old daughter of a wealthy Christian family. Their marriage was kept secret for 15 months, during which Suha converted to Islam. She gave birth to their daughter, Zahwa, in 1995.

• In the late 1950s, Arafat founded the Palestinian nationalist group Fatah. Its ultimate goal was the creation of a Palestinian state and its methods included armed attacks on Israelis. Fatah joined the PLO coalition in the late 1960s and became its dominant faction when Arafat assumed the PLO leadership.
Medium: Television
Program: Newsworld Live
Broadcast Date: Sept. 5, 2000
Guest(s): Yasser Arafat, Jean Chrétien
Host: Ben Chin, Don Newman
Duration: 5:16

Last updated: November 29, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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