RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was laid to rest Friday in the Muqata, the same Ramallah compound where he had been besieged by Israeli forces for most of the past three years.
Muslim clerics read Quranic verses after Arafat's body was lowered into a marble-and-stone grave. A handful of soil from Jerusalem's Temple Mount (search) was scattered onto the coffin.
Frantic mourners surged toward the tomb, trampling the olive tree saplings that had been planted around the grave according to Islamic tradition. One policeman knelt on the marble and kissed the stone.
A black-and-white checkered keffiyeh (search), or traditional headdress, was planted on a stick in the soil of the grave, arranged in Arafat's trademark fold reflecting the shape of Palestine.
The Palestinians consider the gravesite temporary — a place for Arafat's body until they can honor his request to be buried in Jerusalem.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi (search), a sometime critic of Arafat, said the pandemonium was a sign of love.
"President Arafat would have wanted it this way, with exhilaration, feelings of loyalty, pain, sadness and love all at once," she said. "The people reclaimed him. They wanted to say goodbye without distance."
Earlier, tens of thousands of Palestinian men, some masked and carrying assault rifles, greeted the Jordanian military helicopters carrying Arafat's funeral procession as they landed in the compound.
Palestinian police pushed back the crowd to clear a space for the helicopters to land as chants of "Welcome, Abu Ammar," Arafat's nom de guerre, rang out. But as soon as the aircraft had touched down, the crowd surged forward, preventing anyone or anything from disembarking for some time.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) and Omar Suleiman (search), Egypt's director of intelligence, tried to emerge from one helicopter, but were kept back by the huge crowd. Police tried to back a station wagon up to the aircraft, but it got bogged down in the chaotic throng.
After nearly half an hour, the flag-draped coffin, draped in the red, black, green and white Palestinian flag, finally emerged, carried by a harassed honor guard as a huge cry went up from the crowd.
Men swarmed to try to touch it, and the casket appeared to be blown off course as the human sea surged around it. The flag was eventually stripped from the coffin and a black-and-white keffiyeh replaced it.
Police jumped on top of it, waved their arms and flashed the victory sign. People chanted, "With our blood and our soul we will redeem you Yasser Arafat!"
An elaborate service had been scheduled to take place before Arafat's burial, with a stream of officials filing past the coffin, but it was canceled.
"It is not what we expected," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat (search), who traveled in the helicopter with Arafat's coffin. "At the same time, we had to do the burial before sunset in Islamic tradition. ... I expected much better, more organized, but things got out of hand, unfortunately."
For several hours, hundreds of police had tried to keep the growing crowd back from the walls of the compound, but at one point, mourners managed to break through gates and climb over walls. A top Arafat aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, appealed to the crowd to move back from the gates.
"The whole world is watching us now on television and we have to reflect our real picture," he said.
Hundreds of gunshots were fired into the air, mostly from Palestinian police trying to control the crowd.
"I wanted to say goodbye and I didn't get a chance. I didn't get a glimpse of his coffin," said Hadeje Abu Sharif, 52, a diabetic who fainted during the frenzy. "We have no organization. If we had it, we would have a state."
The green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas (search) mingled with Palestinian nationalist flags and even a couple of French flags, seemingly in tribute to the country that had harbored Arafat in his last days. Later, a Canadian flag inexplicably waved over the crowd.
Teenage boys climbed onto the walls of the compound chanting "Whoever poisoned Arafat, we will drink his blood." Others cried out, "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great," and "We want to see Abu Ammar."
Gunmen from both Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), an offshoot of Arafat's Fatah organization, could be seen in the crowd. Despite several scuffles, there appeared to be no sign of severe violence.
The masked gunmen strode into the compound, ignoring calls from official Palestine TV not to carry arms or mask faces, as is common in Palestinian funerals during times of crisis. However, the gunmen submitted to inspection by plainclothes security personnel who ensured there were no bullets in the chambers.
Palestinian Red Crescent medical personnel carried off at least two people who appeared to have fainted on stretchers.
After about an hour, the crowd appeared to slowly calm down, with a constant stream of mourners straggling away.
A few miles away, a car bomb blew up near Ramallah's Bir Zeit University, killing two Palestinian men, Israel TV reported.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians scuffled with Israeli police, who blocked them from entering the Temple Mount for prayers on the last Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Israelis stayed away from the Ramallah compound, although for some time it seemed possible that the crowd might take it upon itself to carry Arafat's body the dozen miles to Jerusalem.
In Gaza City, hundreds of people gathered on rooftops, streets and apartment balconies in hopes of catching a glimpse of the helicopter. Barred from attending the burial, tens of thousands of Gaza residents held rallies and symbolic funerals across the strip.
Buildings and windshields in the West Bank and Gaza were plastered with Arafat's photo and people waved black and white scarves, the colors of the late leader's Fatah movement.
Earlier, at the first state funeral in Cairo since that of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, Arab presidents and royalty honored a man they considered an equal.
Arafat's service began with Islamic prayers Friday morning at 11 a.m. Egyptian time, (3 a.m. EST), one hour earlier than advertised. It concluded with a military procession, the wooden coffin on horse-drawn carriage, draped in the Palestinian flag, to a nearby military base.
His widow, Suha, and their 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa, wept as a band played the Palestinian and Egyptian national anthems.
The casket was then loaded aboard an Egyptian air force plane, which took off to carry Arafat's body to an airstrip in the northeastern Sinai Peninsula, where Jordanian helicopters met the entourage.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah as well as Farouk Kaddoumi, the newly chosen head of the Fatah organization, and Abbas, head of the PLO executive committee, were among those in the front row of about 60 world leaders and other dignitaries who earlier marched behind the casket down Salah Salem Street, which was closed to the public.
The band played a funeral dirge and a high-stepping honor guard carried wreaths at the head of the procession.
The service, amid high-security at the Galaa Club, a military compound in northern Cairo, was aired live on Egyptian television, although all other media was barred from the mosque and tent where most dignitaries sat through the prayers.
"He has served his people all his life, until he faced his God, with courage and honesty. Let us pray for his soul," the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi said.
Throughout the ceremony, Egyptian television played Quranic recitations, including a verse: "After hardship, ease."
Arafat, who died Thursday in Paris, was mourned by Palestinians at home and in refugee camps across the region who had hoped he would one day lead them back to Jerusalem, and by Arabs who had seen him as an inspiring leader. Arab and Israeli authorities took steps to prevent any emotional outpouring from evolving into riots, and many countries declared official mourning periods for Palestinian leader.
Harried preparations for Arafat's grave were made in Ramallah. Early Friday, workers raked sand to level the ground as they laid gray marble slabs around the base of the open, stone-lined, tomb.
The Palestinians consider the grave site as temporary — a place for Arafat's body until the day they hope they can honor his request to be buried in Jerusalem.
Flags flew at half-staff in the compound, where Palestinian policemen rehearsed rifle drills for the ceremony that ended up never taking place.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia briefly stopped by to inspect progress on Arafat's tomb, while outside a few young men sat, heads clasped in their hands, next to posters of Arafat and piles of wilting flowers.
Security was a concern throughout Cairo, with the possibility of demonstrations at mosques and in public squares. The Arab public — among whom Arafat was popular — was told to stay away from the area.
Across town, scores of people carrying photographs of Arafat and the Egyptian and Palestinian flags, demonstrated at the ancient Al-Azhar Mosque, chanting: "Oh, Arafat, rest in peace. Await us at heaven's door" and "Yasser, Yasser ... we are with you in the line of fire."
Rasha Mahmoud was upset she could not bid a final farewell to Arafat.
"It is pathetic that the people were not allowed to take part in the funeral," said the 20-year-old student. "He was a great leader who fought for the nation. The least he deserved was for us to take part in the funeral prayers."
Early Friday, black-uniformed Egyptian police lined Saleh Salem Street near the Galaa Club, where the funeral began at 10 a.m. (3 a.m. EST), an hour earlier than officials had said it would. An armed soldier watched over the club from high in a minaret of the mosque.
After a traditional funeral prayer lasting only a couple of minutes, eight dark-suited pallbearers carried the casket out of the mosque and handed it to an Egyptian honor guard. They placed it inside a silver hearse and drove away from the mosque; the carriage stood motionless flanked by Egyptian honor guards.
Egyptian television showed pictures of Mubarak arriving at the colorful, red-carpeted tent on the grounds of the military club. There, Farouk Kaddoumi, newly chosen leader of the Fatah organization, and Abbas could be seen standing with Arafat's nephew, Palestinian envoy to the United Nations Nasser al-Kidwa, to receive condolences.
Among the dignitaries were King Abdullah II of Jordan, Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, President Bashar Assad of Syria, Sultan Hasanal Bolkiah of Brunei, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana and Pope Shenouda III, head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church.
Most European countries were represented by their foreign ministers, among them Jack Straw of Britain, Michel Barnier of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany. President Goran Persson of Sweden was the sole European head of state.
The United States was represented by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and Consul General in Jerusalem David Pearce.
"Yasser Arafat was more important for Palestinian identity than their flag and their national anthem," Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. envoy for the Middle East and a key player in the talks that led to the 1993 Oslo peace accord, told The Associated Press during the funeral.
He said he hoped the new Palestinian leadership would return to peace negotiations with Israel.
In a column published in Friday's New York Times, King Abdullah II of Jordan urged the United States to "refocus" on the peace process.
"In Israel, the government can recommit to the road map and move swiftly to withdraw from Gaza and take other confidence-building measures that will refute the charge that its recent policies are intended to sideline the peace process and further divide people," he wrote. "Both sides can now make the compromises that a comprehensive, lasting and just peace requires."
The plane carrying Arafat's coffin arrived late Thursday at Cairo airport from a Paris military base. Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the Egyptian president, greeted Suha Arafat with a hug.
Egyptian authorities went out of their way to tell the public to steer clear of the suburban Cairo funeral.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.