JERUSALEM – Israel has drawn up preparations for Yasser Arafat (search) to be buried in the Gaza Strip (search), outlining plans to let West Bank Palestinians cross through Israel for the funeral and allow enemy Arab leaders to attend, security officials said Sunday.
It was the latest development in the battle over Arafat's burial, going on even as the Palestinian leader fights for his life in a Paris hospital. Palestinian officials have said Arafat wants to be buried in Jerusalem (search).
Israel has rejected that demand, citing security concerns and fearing it would strengthen Palestinian claims to the traditionally Arab sector of the city as a future capital.
Israel suggested Gaza as an alternative but said it would consider Palestinian wishes for burial elsewhere. It said the Palestinians have not contacted them.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said it is inappropriate to discuss the burial issue while Arafat is alive. "I think it's not for the Israelis to decide and I would urge the Israelis to show some sensitivity," Erekat said.
Arafat, 75, remained under intensive care at a French military hospital. In recent days, Palestinian officials have said he is comatose. But on Sunday, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Arafat aide, said he was only "sleeping."
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz outlined plans for a Gaza funeral during a Cabinet meeting Sunday, telling ministers, "Israel has completed its preparations for Arafat to be buried in Gaza and is waiting for an official request by the Palestinians."
Arafat's clan, the Al-Kidwas, is from Gaza, though he grew up in Jerusalem and Cairo. The family has a plot of 25 to 30 graves in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The overgrown patch is amid a busy vegetable market and would likely be considered inappropriate by Palestinians.
Other burial options include a seaside plot next to his old headquarters in Gaza City, or Gaza City's "martyrs' cemetery" east of the city, close to Israel.
Israel assumes that Arafat will be put to rest in Khan Younis, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They said the plan would allow an undetermined number of West Bank Palestinians to cross through Israel in buses to attend funeral. Officials said the army has already arranged to provide permits and transportation.
During the past four years of violence, it has been almost impossible for West Bank Palestinians to travel to the Gaza Strip.
Leaders of Arab countries that don't have diplomatic relations with Israel — such as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — may fly to Gaza from Jordan, the officials said.
The army would also ease travel restrictions within Gaza to allow Palestinians inside the coastal area to freely reach the funeral, they said.
The officials said security in Gaza would be left to Palestinian authorities. Securing such a funeral could be one of the greatest challenges to the Palestinian forces, which have been seriously weakened in the past four years.
Mofaz also said Israel is preparing for possible violence after Arafat's death. But he said in Arafat's absence, current Palestinian leaders are working to prevent it.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia led a meeting of the Palestinian national security council. The grouping of security chiefs approved Qureia's plan "to enforce law and security," Erekat said, declining to elaborate.
On Saturday, Qureia met in Gaza with the heads of the 13 Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in an effort to ensure calm in the post-Arafat era.
The leaders called for unity and power-sharing after Arafat's death, but did not work out details. Qureia said they would reconvene to discuss "restoring law and order and security control."
Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, also met with Qureia, but it was unclear what was discussed. Participants said Qureia discussed relations between the security forces and the rival — and sometimes warring — factions.
Hamas, the largest opposition party, has long resisted Qureia's calls for a truce, refusing to halt suicide bombings and other attacks. It said Saturday it was committed to Palestinian unity, and wanted a formal role in Palestinian decision-making.
Recently, as Palestinian militants jockey for position before a planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, gunmen and policemen have battled, leading to violent street fights.