Yasser Arafat, the leader and most famous symbol of Palestinian nationalism for nearly 40 years, died early today in a French military hospital near Paris.
His death deprived Palestinians of the figure who led and shaped their long, often-violent campaign to obtain international recognition as a people and their quest to govern themselves in an independent state.
Mr. Arafat, 75, died after suffering a brain hemorrhage and multiple organ failure, two weeks after falling seriously ill at his presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. His death was announced by French medical officials outside Paris and Palestinian officials in the West Bank.
"Mr. Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, has died at the Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart on Nov. 11, 2004, at 3:30 [a.m. Paris time]," hospital spokesman Gen. Christian Estripeau told reporters. The underlying illness was not disclosed.
Mr. Arafat's chief of staff, Ahmed Abdel Rahim, speaking before dawn in Ramallah, said the Palestinian leader was "looking down at holy Jerusalem," demanding the liberation of its holy sites.
"He shut his eyes from the world and his soul has gone to his creator, but he is staying with his great people because he is the leader of its march toward building freedom of the land and toward creating a separate Palestinian state," Rahim said.
"Today we lose the son of Fatah and the PLO who grew up on the streets on Jerusalem hoping to make it the capital of our state."
A French military jet had flown Mr. Arafat to Paris on Oct. 29, and he was transferred to the Percy hospital in Clamart, southeast of the capital. After losing consciousness five days later, he was transferred to the hospital's intensive-care unit.
During his last days, he became the subject of an unseemly dispute between his wife, Suha, and his closest aides. Suha Arafat accused the Palestinian prime minister and other senior officials of trying to hurry her husband into his grave in order to seize power.
Exasperated, the officials talked carefully of Mr. Arafat as belonging not just to his wife but to the Palestinian people. After consulting with his physicians, they praised Mrs. Arafat for her strength.
Over the course of a long career in exile and then in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mr. Arafat transformed his image from that of a ruthless guerrilla leader to respected statesman, as a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. But his standing changed again after establishment of the Palestinian Authority, to that of autocratic overseer of a faction-ridden government riddled by corruption.
Some of his prestige evaporated after the collapse of peace negotiations with Israel in 2000, and still more disappeared after the outbreak of a violent uprising that in the last four years has left Palestinian cities in ruins and the economy shattered.
He was the first and so far only president of the Palestinian Authority, the longtime chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the head of the PLO's dominant political faction, Fatah. He spent the last three years confined to a few small rooms in the largely ruined presidential compound under the eyes of Israeli troops. Originally built by the British and then used as a military headquarters by Jordan and Israel, most of the compound was destroyed by Israeli forces in December 2001 after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings.
Mr. Arafat seemed vital, indeed essential to his cause, until his hospitalization. Wearing his trademark black-and-white checked keffiya, and with his always stubbly mustache and beard, Mr. Arafat was instantly recognizable worldwide. He was also known as Abu Ammar, his nom de guerre. To his intimates, he was "Al Khityar," "the old man." For millions of Palestinians, he was the embodiment of their aspirations, accomplishments and failures.
As chairman of the PLO, Mr. Arafat shared responsibility for dozens of acts of violence directed against Israel beginning in the mid-1960s, attacks the United States and other nations condemned as terrorism. But his remarkably durable prestige also allowed him to reach an historic agreement with Israel in 1993 that awarded Palestinians the beginnings of self-rule.
Mr. Arafat's most important success was his agreeing to a Declaration of Principles signed September 13, 1993, by high-level aides at a White House ceremony as Mr. Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Clinton watched.
The PLO and Israel thereby officially recognized each other and pledged to end generations of warfare. Based on understandings reached in the preceding months during secret talks in Oslo, Norway, Israel promised to cede authority to the PLO in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The agreement also marked Israel's and the United States' acceptance of Mr. Arafat as a full partner.