BAQAA, Jordan – Palestinian refugees took to the streets of the Arab world Thursday to mourn Yasser Arafat, firing shots into the air, burning American and Israeli flags, and shedding tears for the man who was the symbol of their struggle for statehood.
In a Jordanian camp, barefoot boys brandished toy machine guns.
Spontaneous rallies broke out in Lebanon and Syria, swelling the streets with thousands of mourners for the Palestinian leader, who died Thursday morning in France.
In the Rashidieh refugee camp (search) near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, demonstrators shouted "Death to Israel!" — a rallying cry for Palestinians who blame the Jewish state for thwarting their national aspirations.
At Ein el-Hilweh (search), near the southern city of Sidon, demonstrators burned tires and fired shots in the air to express frustration and sadness. Later, crowds swelled the narrow streets, waving Arafat's pictures and chanting: "Our soul and blood, we sacrifice for you."
A black-clad Palestinian woman in her late 60s, using Arafat's nom de guerre, shouted through a loudspeaker: "History, take note! Abu Ammar has become a martyr!"
About 1,000 Palestinians marched in the alleys of Yarmouk refugee camp (search) on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus. Women, dressed in black, ululated and cried, as men chanted the Muslim battle cry of "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!"
In Jordan's largest refugee camp of Baqaa, 2,000 angry Palestinians poured into the dusty alleyways, waving black flags and shouting: "We will return to Palestine!"
The crowd, which later burned and trampled three Israeli flags and an American one, was led by children and women. They carried a mock coffin draped in the Palestinian flag and Arafat's pictures as they circled their camp. Young boys, some barefoot, carried toy AK-47s.
Jordan, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, declared Thursday a national holiday, the first of three days of mourning. Government offices and schools were closed, a move that allowed more participation in pro-Arafat gatherings.
"It feels like I lost a father and a good friend," Mohammed Sbeiha, 55, said in a cracking voice, using his black-and-white checkered headdress to wipe away his tears.
"He was a great man, he cared for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian cause, he tried to help refugees like me, but couldn't do much because the [Israelis] don't want us back in our homes in Palestine."
Arafat had promised refugee Palestinians they would one day be able to return to the homes they lost after the 1948 founding of Israel and subsequent wars, but the issue remained one of the most intractable in peace negotiations with Israel.
"God only knows if the Palestinians will have a good man like Arafat to lead them," added Sbeiha, a plumber who lives in Amman's Wehdat camp, where women were shrouded in black and Quranic verses blared from loudspeakers.
In Baqaa, one of Jordan's 13 U.N.-run refugee settlements housing 1.7 million Palestinians, portraits of Arafat were being hung in shop windows and in the squalid streets, and cars were draped in black flags.
"I was shocked when I heard the news. I'm very sad. I cried a lot," said Mohammed Youssef, 60, a retired trader from the West Bank town of Hebron, his eyes brimming with tears.
Young Palestinian refugees were equally distressed.
"I was very sad, although I expected Arafat would die," said shop owner Jalal al-Yasouri, 28.
But, he added, "the Palestinian cause will not die because it's not connected to one person. It's linked to a territory, a nation and to history and it will continue until we regain all our land."